Shotgun classes are few and far between around my part of the world. Occasionally the big name guys will get within a day’s drive, but as far a class an hour or two down the road, that just doesn’t happen much. Up until now, my occasional foray into open enrollment instruction was all that was offered locally. Now there is a new player, and hopefully that will mean more training that is accessible to the local shotgunning community. Maybe it will even start to build some local interest in shotguns as defensive tools.
A year or so ago when I attended the Rangemaster Defensive Shotgun IDC I met Barry Heller. Barry is one of the primary instructors at S7, who operates out of their own range facility just north of Conway, AR. I have known about them for a while, but never had a chance to make a class. They offer their own courses, and on occasion bring in some of the bigger name national guys. I had told Barry at the Rangemaster IDC that I would be at their first shotgun class. Through some incredible luck, and Barry adding a slot to an already sold out class, I was able to make it.
Barry’s background isn’t the typical law enforcement officer or military veteran turned firearms instructor. Barry’s current day job is in banking, but he has a passion for firearms and firearms training. He pursues the task of teaching seriously, and tries to position himself as best he can to deliver relevant and realistic material. That I know of, he has about 40 hours of training, and several thousand dollars invested in delivering this 4 hour class. Who knows how many hours of just working on the range himself to develop the lesson plan he has put in.
The class was scheduled to run from 1:00pm to 5:00pm on a Sunday afternoon. It kicked off promptly at 12:56pm according to my watch, with the usual administrative tasks for any live fire class. Waivers, a course roster, and quick review of firearms safety.
The first hour of course time was spent in the classroom hitting some of the high points of shotgun technique, setup, and a few myths that surround the shotgun. The pace for this part of the class is super quick, and Barry is just skimming along the tops of the waves for the most part. He didn’t deep dive on too many topics, but gave enough information for people to orient their compass correctly and get pointed in the right direction.
After the classroom, we all hoofed our gear out onto the range that is just adjacent to the classroom. The course description called for 100 rounds of birdshot, 25 rounds of buckshot, and a handful or two of slugs. By my estimation, we got pretty close to those numbers. I think I shot 75 of birdshot, 24 rounds of buckshot, and 5 slugs.
There were 10 people in the class, split into 2 relays of 5 each. Barry would explain the shooting exercise to everyone at the same time, then each relay would take their turn shooting the drill a handful of times. This would usually cycle twice, then onto the next thing. Keeping the reps relatively low made managing ammunition much easier.
The first hour and a half or so on the range was spent working most of the normal defensive shotgun stuff. Recoil management (push/pull), presentation from low ready and muzzle up ready, and emergency reloads. At the end, they throw in a couple less basic skills but they aren’t repped sufficiently to build skill. It is more of exposing the student to something that can be mastered down the road. All of this work was at 5-7 yards with birdshot, and where the bulk of the shooting happened.
The next hour or so was spent grasping what to expect from buckshot patterns, checking slug zero at 50 yards, and working on shooting on the move. The patterning and checking zero was mostly about understanding equipment and skill limitations. One of the primary purposes of a class like this is to understand what your equipment and skill level will allow you to do, or not do. Then the equipment can be sorted outside of the class. Zeroing with shotgun slugs is not something many people do apparently.
Once we got to the shooting on the move drills, it did slow the class down a bit because the drills were shot one shooter at a time to ensure safety. For me, someone who is always itching to shoot and feels comfortable shooting on the move, I would have preferred a little quicker pace here. For most of the other people in the class though, I think this might have been a welcome break. We were about 100 rounds in, and other than a couple LE guys in the class, everyone else was relatively unfamiliar with the shotgun in a defensive context, or even formal firearms training for that matter. This was probably the correct pace for 70% of the class.
The final drill of the class was a short man v man drill on steel targets. This was the first real application of pressure in the class, and was a fair culmination exercise. It hit all of the basics that were worked on earlier in the class, and allowed us to see how pressure can cause skills to deteriorate. Even with relatively mild pressure. We finished shooting around 4:40pm, took about 10 minutes to reset the range and pickup trash, then back in the classroom for a quick 10 minute debrief.
As a whole, the class was well run. As a first iteration, there are always going to be some hiccups, but overall it was a good experience. It a nut shell, this is a quick paced offering that is touching on a lot of different stuff, but not diving really deep on any single topic. Talking to Barry afterwards, it sounds like there will be some follow on shotgun classes from S7 that are more focused on specific areas, so it makes sense that for an introductory class they would only hit the highlights. Exposure to what would normally be considered more advanced skills like short stocking and shooting on the move gives the participants just enough to want to come back and see what else there is.