When offered the chance to attend three days of self-defense and handgun training at the world-famous Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona, I said “Yes!” enthusiastically, and not just because it sounded like a cool experience. While I’ve hunted with rifles and shotguns for many years, and have had some formal rifle training, my time using handguns has been relatively minimal. In fact, like a lot of gun owners, I’d never had any actual handgun or self-defense training before this event.

So I accepted the invitation to spend three days at Gunsite, attend the training, and get a good deal of hands-on time with Remington’s newest and smallest handgun, the RM380, a semiautomatic “micro” pistol chambered in .380 Auto that I recently reviewed.

The Truth About Attacks

The 10 of us sitting in that Gunsite classroom on the first day were all thinking the same thing: When were we going to get our hands on that new pistol and learn how to defend ourselves with it?

“Not so fast,” was the message from our two Gunsite instructors, Chris Weare and John Hutchison. Both are retired police officers and long-time firearms and self-defense teachers. First, they explained, we had to learn foundation skills, starting with our footwork.

“This class is about self-defense,” said Hutchison. “That means you are being attacked or an attack is imminent. An attacker’s coming at you—now! What do you do?”

“Pull out my handgun?” said one of my classmates.

“Probably not,” said Hutchison. “Not unless your attacker is coming at you from 40 or 50 yards. Here’s the reality.”

Most attacks, he explained, are launched within “conversational distances” of you—a couple yards or less. Hutchison had a volunteer stand in front of the class. He then backed off 21 feet, and, pretending to have a knife in hand, rushed the volunteer. Time between his rush and touching the volunteer with his “knife” was less than two seconds.

It was a sobering display. At best, a victim might be able to get a concealed-carry handgun out of its holster. Might. If the attacker was say, five feet away? No way.

So the very first thing we learned was how to instantly get into what our instructors termed “the fighting stance.” This all starts with your feet. We spread our feet about shoulder length apart for balance. One foot was slightly forward, the other slightly back—this gave us some leverage should we need to push forward. The trunk of our bodies was centered on top of our hips and down a bit—definitely not leaning forward or back.

Getting our bodies into that stance was awkward at first. But with instruction and practice, we found we could shift into the stance in maybe half a second.

Once in the fighting stance, we learned how to protect our heads—the prime attack area—and to be ready to launch our own attack, if possible. This was done by placing our hands atop our heads, palms down, and forming a protective barrier with our forearms in front. All of this is designed to give us time and ability to fend off the initial attack. Once the attacker has been momentarily thwarted, then we could reach for a firearm to defend ourselves.

“We pretty much teach a layering process,” Instructor Chris Weare explained to me between sessions. “One skill builds on the another.” You learned footwork and the fighting stance first. Then we moved to the defensive posture to protect your head and face. Then, and only then, did we add the handgun to the mix.

Have Pistol, Will Defend
The author practicing his fighting stance as he protects his head during an attack. He was instructed to do this first when attacked at close quarters, before drawing a pistol.

Controlled Draw, Quick Shot

We started day two at the shooting range with our brand new RM380s holstered at our waists. Our first exercise was to stand on the firing line, and begin drawing the small semi-automatic RM380 out of the holster. But, instead of whipping out the pistol like Old West gunslingers, we were taught to place our hand on the butt and slide the pistol up while keeping it very close to our bodies. Once it had cleared the holster, the rear of the pistol came down, with the muzzle pointing straight ahead.

At this point, our instructors explained, we could fire the pistol if needed…maybe not very accurately, but in a situation where the attacker was almost on us, we’d have the option.

Our next move was to extend our shooting hand forward while simultaneously cupping the trigger guard area of the pistol with our free hand and extending both arms forward. Exerting a slight rearward pressure with the non-trigger hand provides additional stability to the handgun.

When quickly firing at a close target, our instructors explained, we were not going to need to align both front and back sights. Get the front sight on the target, we were told, and squeeze the trigger.

We had a good deal of practice at this seemingly simple maneuver of shifting into the fighting stance, drawing handguns, aiming, and firing. You might think it would be a simple matter to put a bullet into the center of a life-sized human silhouette target at 3 or 5 or even 7 yards. But, as we soon discovered, any miscue with our pistol draw or arm extension could throw a shot off target.

Scanning for a Predator

After several hours of this practice (with many breaks added in to keep us fresh), we added the next layer. After the shot, we scanned to our left and right for a second attacker, handgun at the ready.

“Predators run in pairs,” said Hutchinson. “Always expect more than one.”

After this, we practiced moving to the right or left with our pistol drawn, and then firing.

By the end of that day’s training, and with a good 200 rounds apiece put downrange, we all felt we’d learned a good deal. We weren’t experts by any means, but we were not complete rookies either.

Move, Shoot, Move Again

The Urban Scrambler is made up of a line of targets set up at distances from 10 to 20 yards or so. The basic idea was to move to each new station, draw your pistol, and engage the target, most of which were round steel plates approximately four inches in diameter. Painted red and blue, the plates are easy to spot, but to add realism, they are placed around old vehicles, in framed up doorways, and in the open. Likewise, we shot from behind an old truck, alongside doorframes, and next to barriers.

Have Pistol, Will Defend
After practicing a “fighting stance” and learning to properly draw a pistol in a self-defense situation, it took the author 11 shots to knock down seven steel targets in this self-defense course at Gunsite.

We were given two full, six-round magazines. Our instructions were to shoot until we had either hit all the steel targets or run out of ammunition. We could do the Scrambler multiple times.

I hit several targets on my very first try, but had a couple of misses that required me to keep shooting. At the end of the Scrambler line, I had one round left, meaning I had engaged seven targets with four misses—not exactly the kind of proficiency that would get me recruited to a police SWAT team. On the other hand, without the two days of previous training, I doubt I would’ve dropped half those targets with twice the amount of ammunition.

Attending the Gunsite course instilled a good deal of confidence in me as a handgun shooter. What’s more, my two fine instructors laid the foundation for me to learn more defensive shooting skills.