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The Gunsite Raven keeps watch over the gate of the legendary 2,000 acre shooting school.

Gunsite Academy has been dubbed the “Harvard of Handguns,” and with good reason.

Founded by Col. Jeff Cooper as the American Pistol Institute in 1976 to teach the Modern Technique of the Pistol, this shooting school in the high desert outside Paulden, Arizona is home to a cadre of incredibly-talented firearms instructors. Gunsite teaches everyone from first-time shooters, to hard-core competitors, to law enforcement and military special operations forces… and even royalty.

Gunsite’s signature course is 250 Pistol, which for 39 years has been the most influential handgun course in the United States if not the world, shaping the doctrine of how to fight with a handgun for militaries, police, and civilians. I graduated 250 Pistol last August, and went back to Paulden last week for 350 Intermediate Pistol.

Continuing “The Gunsite Experience”:  350 is the natural progression in the Modern Technique of the Pistol.

Move!   The 350 course focuses on movement- You will not be standing still on the line as everything will be done with different types of movement.   Getting off the line of attack, shoot then move, move then shoot, continuous movement and moving targets hi light the week!

Concealed carry is optional for much of the class to make the training more relevant to your everyday life.   New flashlight techniques are introduced as your night shoot is done in the simulators!  You will learn to draw and shoot with your support hand.  Dozier drills are shot from a seated position and the El Presidente drill is done tactically.

You will also be introduced to force on force training done with Simunitions!  The added realism of dealing with live people who react and respond to you is the most beneficial training you can have!  It’s as close to real as it gets!

For those of us raised “back east,” coming out to Gunsite is like entering another world. I flew into Phoenix and rented a car, and then began the uphill drive through the Sonoran Desert, through Prescott and Chino Valley on a two-lane highway. After a few turns, I was off the paved road, and following the signs once down a dusty gravel road once again.

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I met up with my classmates on Monday morning, where I was greeted by Gunsite’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Ken Campbell, who warmly welcomed “the gun writer” with a smile and a crayon. After meeting our instructor cadre of four instructors—which I think averaged 31 years of military and law enforcement experience—we completed our introductory briefs, signed releases, and headed out to Hanneken Range, which would be our home for the week.

The first two days of the 350 class were a compressed review of what we all covered in the 250 Pistol class.

[You can read about my Gunsite Academy 250 Pistol experience here and here]

Under the watchful eyes of our instructors (we had 4 instructors and 16 students), we were able to work out kinks in our presentation, grip, trigger press, speed and tactical reload techniques, while also shaking down our gear and working on out transitions to kneeling and prone, and remembering our footwork.

The shakedown was especially vital for me, as I was shooting a “new” pistol, the Beretta M9A1 Compact that I won at the Beretta Tactical Summit in April, in a brand-new holster. I’d planned on carrying it AIWB for concealed carry in a semi-custom G-Code holster provided by my friends at Military Hardware, but neglected to bring the correct attachment to convert it to belt-mounted OWB holster for class use at Gunsite. Literally minutes before going to the range, I picked up a Blade-Tech holster with a slight drop and offset from the Gunsite Pro Shop to use for the week.

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Having shot a competition-shooting-focused Walther PPQ 5″ pistol in the 250 Pistol last year, I have to confess that I was worried about making a complete wreck of 350, attempting to shoot a compact double-action/single-action pistol with two very different trigger pulls for the first time.

I was right to worry.

During the two days of review the pistol functioned well, but I was having a difficult time managing the longer, heavier double-action first shot, and then transitioning to the short, lighter follow-up shots.

As time wore on, I got incrementally better. It took maybe 600-700 rounds to start putting things together semi-consistently.

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Gunsite 350 pistol students working on standing-to-kneeling transitions at 15 yards.

At 3, 5, 7 and even ten yards I was able to start putting together decent hits on target, but was still having a tough time trying to make a double-action first shot at 15 yards when we shot kneeling or prone. I was fortunate that one of our instructors, Lew Gosnell, had extensive experience with the Beretta platform due to his years in the LAPD, and he showed me a technique for drawing and thumb-cocking the pistol with my support-side hand that saved me both time and aggravation.

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Transitioning from standing to prone at 35 yards.

Once we got through the 250 Pistol review phase it was time to learn new things, such as shooting while moving, shooting moving targets, shooting and then moving, and moving then shooting.

I’ts not as easy as it sounds, and we’ll cover that in our next article in the series.