Looking for a firearms instructor can be a daunting task. Do a Google search and you’ll most likely get numerous instructor names, companies and websites. Narrowing down the choices and deciding which one is best can be tricky. Do you go with the first one listed, or just take a shot in the dark? I asked several women instructors for their advice on what to look for when choosing a firearms instructor.
Selecting a firearms instructor may not be the easiest task. “We don’t often have a smörgåsbord of trainers to choose from, for one,” says Beth Alcazar, who holds instructor certifications from the NRA, SIG Sauer Academy, The Well Armed Woman, and USCCA. “But we may just not know what to look for, overall. If you’ve already narrowed down your choices by the courses you want to take, then I would suggest looking first at credentials, background and experience levels. Keep in mind that one certification doesn’t really say that much, and a lot of instructors are teaching way beyond their level of skill and knowledge. Background can also be very beneficial: Some military and law enforcement officers offer solid training, since they may have had solid training themselves. I have also found that instructors with a background in teaching often make very effective firearms trainers.
“Also, be sure to check out the person’s level of shooting experience,” says Alcazar. “Is this a new shooter? A competitive shooter? A hunter? How long has he or she been training? What courses does he or she teach? And what courses has he or she taken? Some of this information can be found on an instructor’s website, blog or social media page, but testimonials and word of mouth may be more believable.
“All in all, think about how you best learn,” says Alcazar. “Do you pick up things quickly by watching and listening, or do you ‘get it’ much better when you actually do it? Do you prefer to learn in a big class? A small group? With men and women? Or from a female instructor? Look at all sides to help you make an informed and wise decision for yourself.”
An instructor with the NRA, The Well Armed Woman, and USCCA, Kim Condon teaches at the Boondocks Firearms Training Academy. She recommends doing some research. “Start with Facebook,” says Condon. “The instructor’s Facebook page will have threads you can read, where you can see what type of training they do and look at their photos. Next, check out their website and read the reviews on both. If you see anyone that is a mutual friend or know of someone who has taken a course from them, call them. Ask them if they have taken classes from other instructors to compare experiences, and did they feel safe while learning? Remember to trust someone who has taken a class from them vs. what the instructor has written about themselves.”
A few things Kim says to look for in an instructor are: How long they’ve been teaching, what type of classes they teach, do they teach women-only courses, what their certifications are and if they’re applicable to your needs. She also advises avoiding an instructor who offers extremely discounted fees, cautioning, “Most of these classes are overbooked; you want quality instruction, not just a certificate. Quality over quantity.”
Women’s Outdoor News editor Michelle Cerino—who is also president of Chris Cerino Training Group, LLC, a firearms training company she built with her husband, Chris, in 2011—had some other wise words to share. “Competition is a great way to vet your personal skills,” says Cerino. “Competitive shooting proves you can apply these skills under the pressure of a timer. An instructor who competes and isn’t afraid to let the world see her performance is another bonus. A trainer’s skills can be kept up-to-date by competing, thus demonstrating proper weapon handling and a solid understanding of the fundamentals.
“This doesn’t mean she has to win,” says Cerino. “However, it proves she has the knowledge, skills and abilities to make difficult shots at speed and under stress. A good instructor is able to practice what she preaches. Even if she doesn’t compete, she should be able to demonstrate the skill she is teaching and what she expects the students to do during class.” Michelle has seen this firsthand, since she competes in both 3-Gun and Action Pistol.
As an instructor myself, I’d add that anyone who is teaching firearms classes should be prepared: They should put safety first, have the research to back up their training methods, understand how to teach in various ways to accommodate different learning styles, and be trained in first aid/trauma in the event of an emergency.
One final thing: Does the instructor have a positive attitude and focus on helping each student become their best? Each instructor sets the environment for their students. A quote by William Arthur Ward sums up my final thought:
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”