With apologies to Mr. Disney and my elementary school-aged daughter, Gunsite Academy is my “happiest place on Earth.”
By my count, I’ve made the drive up and down Gunsite Road probably close to 100 times now. Each and every time, I’m blown away by the rugged beauty of the high desert outside Paulden, Arizona, which reaches out to me in a way I don’t think I’ll ever properly be able to convey.
I’ve been fortunate to experience some of the best firearms training on the planet from some of the most experienced instructors on the planet. I’ve been through Col. Jeff Cooper’s original class, 250 Pistol.
I learned to push myself and my equipment in 350 Intermediate Pistol with my Townhall Media colleague Katie Pavlich.
I was honored to attend the 2016 Scout Rifle Conference earlier this year, and take instruction from legendary instructor (and absolutely delightful person) Il Ling New as I learned about the Scout Rifle, one of Col. Coooper’s concepts that has exploded in comercial popularity in recent years.
I was also in the inaugural run of one of Gunsite’s new classes, Defense Against Street Crimes, which really opened my eyes to the realities of armed robbery and the fact that you may need to be just as skilled with patching holes and communicating effectively with 911 dispatchers as you are at shooting.
I’ve also been fortunate to attend a special event held at Gunsite, The Evolution Of Shooting, with Steve Tarani, SEAL Chief (Retired) Chris White, and some guy named Leatham who can shoot a handgun a little bit.
I’ve had a lot of time at Gunsite, but my experience pales in comparison to many other repeat customers who just keep coming back time and again, including a bunch affectionately known as “The Knuckleheads,” many of whom have taken every course multiple times and who now have custom courses set up because they simply can’t stay away. As I said in the beginning, the entire “Gunsite Experience” gets in your bones. For some of us, it becomes a drug.
I sometimes wonder if Col. Cooper sat at his desk in his office in The Sconce authoring both articles and courses of fire, and had any idea that the American Pistol Institute that he founded in the Arizona desert in 1976 would grow to become a sprawling complex of ranges, shoot houses, classroom and simulators spanning more than 2000 acres. Gunsite has hosted grunts and lawmen, movies stars, and at least one King. It is regarded by many as the Harvard of shooting schools, and is a place incredibly rich in history for a site that is, after all only 40 years young.
This weekend, my fellow Gunsite Alumni are having a special 40th anniversary GAS (Gunsite Alumni Shoot) Match.
While I can’t be there in person to see friends that feel like family, I’m there in spirit with Mrs. Janelle Cooper, current owners Buz and Sonya Mills, Chief Operating Sheriff Ken Campbell, my buddy Jane Anne Shimizu, the staff and instructors, and of course, my fellow students.
With any luck, I’ll be out there again soon, getting top-flight training, seeing old friends, and meeting new people at my “happiest place on Earth.”
Happy Birthday, Gunsite.
I’m already making plans to be there on your 50th.
I wouldn’t miss it for the world.