The shotgun is not the cool gun anymore, but it is a gun that many people still turn to for home defense. The Rangemaster Shotgun Instructor Development Course (IDC) is specifically geared for instructors who are most likely going to be teaching defensive shotgun to private citizens who are using their shotguns for home defense. This is different than all the other shotgun IDC’s I am aware of, where the focus is on law enforcement use of the shotgun. Context matters, and it is important to draw that distinction. The Rangemaster Shotgun IDC has a fairly narrow focus because of this, and rightly so. What a private citizen needs a shotgun to do is a bit different than what a law enforcement officer might need a shotgun to do.
If you are not familiar with Rangemaster, or Tom Givens who quite literally is Rangemaster, here is a link to Tom’s bio. Tom knows the business of teaching people how to defend themselves with guns quite well. He provides several levels of handgun instructor development courses, and this shotgun instructor development course to pass on what he has learned over the years. It would be a mistake to disregard the years of experience and success at teaching people to successfully defend themselves that Tom shares in these classes. The Rangemaster Shotgun IDC specifically is a bit of a rare bird and is usually only taught once or maybe twice a year.
Training Day One
Training day 1 started in the classroom, setting the base for the remainder of the course. Shotguns require a fairly wide breadth of knowledge to really understand, and in the age of the AR-15, not many have that knowledge going in. Tom tries to get everyone spun up fairly quickly with a half day in the classroom on day 1 that is hitting all the high points for historical perspective, handling best practices, setting the gun up for the intended role, ammunition selection, and the list goes on. There is a lot of information to process in the first few hours of day 1.
Day 1 moves to the range about halfway through to work some basic drills. Again, this is about getting everyone on the same page so it is basic stuff. From the perspective of an instructor though, the value is not just in the drills and knocking off any rust. Seeing how Tom runs the range, sets up the drills, and the progression of the drills can be a road map for how to teach the skills to someone who is not as familiar with the shotgun.
The range is also where students learn to coach. The class was split into two relays, and shooters paired up. It was the responsibility of the one not shooting to coach and make corrections for the person who was shooting. Depending on the person shooting, this could be difficult, or pretty easy. I ended up being paired with Matt Haught for a good bit of the class and trying to coach someone that good is hard. You really have to pay attention to what they are doing. It is also helpful to the person doing the coaching if the person being coached encourages the correction. It can sometimes be intimidating to coach a shooter who is clearly squared away. Conversely, as the one being coached, you can really get some good corrections if the person coaching you is switched on.
After a few hours getting everyone sorted out, back to the classroom for student presentations. Yup, that is right, students have to make a 5-10 minute presentation on a topic that is assigned when you register for the class. Depending on how early you sign up, that means you will have a couple months or so to get ready and prepare. Don’t be like me and sign up just a few weeks before the class and have to scramble on getting something put together. The lead time on the presentation also means there is plenty of opportunity to have the assigned topic well researched. Be sure to do the homework before class, and be ready to make tweaks as new information is presented during the class.
Each day ended with an hour or so of student presentations. Spreading them out over the entire 3 days. I am not a fan of public speaking, so having the presentations spread out and being able to see a few people go ahead of me helped me to get a handle on the expectations and not be quite as nervous. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous, just maybe a little less than going in cold. I can only imagine what it would have been like if I were the first one to go.
Training Day Two
Day 2 starts back in the classroom, but for less time this go around. The focus here was getting a handle on how defensive shotgun training has evolved over time. How differences in ammunition technology, shotguns setup, and intended role of the gun started off in the early days of modern firearms training, and how that has shifted as time has gone on.
Most of day 2 is spent on the range, reviewing a little from the previous day and developing the progression of drills a bit further. A heavy emphasis is placed on ammunition management and keeping the gun loaded. Not so much because that is likely skill to need in actual use of the gun, but because it is a good way to develop and ingrain manipulation of the gun. If we shoot it much we are going to have to reload it anyway, so might as well use that time to help improve our ability to handle the gun efficiently.
Day 2 is also where we start having pressure applied to us. This is a common thread in the two Rangemaster classes I have attended. At some point, students will be pitted against each other on a scored and timed drill. Usually about halfway through the class. The lesson in an instructor class is how to properly use pressure to assess a student’s ability to shoot the gun under a little bit of stress. As a student, this is just a fun part of the class, and adds a little spice.
Day 2 wraps up with another hour or so of student presentations. Pro tip, or at least a semi-pro tip if you attend the class. Get your presentation out of the way at least by the end of day 2. Day 3 is test day, and the stress of having to manage a presentation, plus a qualification, plus a written test, can be a lot to manage. Getting one thing off the plate before the qualification and written test I think is a wise move.
Training Day Three
Day 3 is back in the classroom with a little more discussion on the evolution of defensive shotgun training. With the examples Tom uses, there is a clear difference between defensive shotgun training 40 years ago, vs defensive shotgun training 20 or so years ago, and defensive shotgun training now. What we can do with shotguns now surpasses what could be done with shotguns even just a decade or so ago because of developments in ammunition. The shotgun’s performance envelope has certainly grown, although few people are actually paying enough attention to realize that. Contextually, the shotgun is one of the most capable home defense tools available, if not the most.
Day 3 on the range is more head to head shooting, confirming slug zeros and buckshot patterns, then shooting the qualification. The qualification is not particularly difficult, if (and that is a big “if”) you know your shotgun and have a good handle on what to expect from your gun/ammo combination. Tom recommends in his pre-course e-mails to bring good buckshot for the qualification, at least 20 rounds or so. He specifically recommends Federal 8 pellet Flite Control (LE13300). This is good advice, and should be listened to. We all know LE13300 might as well be made of unicorn horn right now though. If someone cannot manage to find one of the Flite Control loads, a Hornady 00 Versa-Tite load would be next on the list. If that cannot be managed, stick with U.S. manufacture 00 buckshot that uses hardened and buffered shot, and know how your gun patterns out to 20-ish yards before the class. No more than 8”-10” at 15 yards is about what you need to make qual pretty easy work.
I shot the qualification with 9 pellet Flite Control (LE13200), but could have shot the qualification with any number of available loads and still passed because I know how they pattern at the required distances. Having an understanding of what to expect from your gun and ammunition will go a long way towards getting through the qualification.
The same is true for shotgun slugs. If possible, get a slug that matches the POA/POI with your buckshot at 25 yards. At the very least, know your slug zero really well inside of 50 yards. A low recoil slug will be helpful. Who wants to have to muscle through a bunch of full power slugs in a single string, under time pressure? I surely don’t.
The Written Test
Towards the end of day 3 we retire back to the classroom to wrap up the last few presentations and take the written test. If you have paid really good attention in class and have a decent understanding of how shooting works in general, you could probably pass the written test. It would be beneficial to have read through the student manual given out on day 1 at least a couple times by the time the written test rolls around though. The top gun award for the class is based on the combined score from the qualification and the written test, so if you want a chance at getting top gun, better study for the test.
This isn’t my first Tom Givens instructor course. I took his 3 day handgun instructor course in 2018, so I knew what I was signing up for. At least a little bit. If you aren’t familiar with Tom’s coursework, when the schedule says 9am-6pm, it means every bit of that plus maybe a little extra, and lunch breaks will be short. The qualification will be of moderate difficulty (at least for the entry level IDC’s), and the written test will be where most people struggle. The standards to receive a certificate are not unreachable, but they do require work and paying attention.
For what this course is supposed to do, or at least my understanding of what it is supposed to do, I think it does a good job. It is not the end all be all of shotgun instructor courses, but it is a good starting point when someone decides to move beyond just being an end user of the shotgun to being a teacher of the shotgun. Remember, the focus of this course is setting someone on the path to teach defensive shotgun to the private citizen. By and large, that will mean teaching people how to use a shotgun for home defense. That is a very specific type of shotgun use and those problems are addressed in very specific ways. Do not go to this class expecting to learn how to be a super shotgun operator. That is not what this class is. It is focused on teaching people to use the gun strictly for home defense, and how that can best be accomplished. In that regard I think it sets a really good foundation.
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