Many of our guests enjoy their shooting session with us and decide to get involved in the sport when they get back home. We are frequently asked about how to find and choose a good shooting instructor, so I thought I would write a bit about it!
In my experience, most shooting instructors are just fine, many are pretty good and a few are wonderful. I am cautiously optimistic that if you find anyone who has been in business for at least a year, they will be ok and you will learn some valuable skills from them. Consider what specialty area you are most interested in. Home defense? Olympic prep? Recreational? Concealed carry? Competitive? Hunting? Extended ELR?
Determine what is available in your area. This will be easier in places like Phoenix AZ than in the Socialist Republics of California or New York. In some locations, the pickings are slim and you have to go with who you can get. In other areas, you have many excellent choices in finding a nearby shooting instructor that is of a high caliber.
Common personality types to be aware of. If you are simply looking for one 2-hour pistol lesson, the instructor’s personality matters less, but if you are looking for a weekly series of lessons for the next six months, it is worth finding a good fit.
Many shooting instructors are not good teachers, rather, they love guns and know a little bit about shooting them. They are not great at communicating at a basic, respectful, foundational level. Teaching at an introductory or intermediate level requires teaching skill, not so much highly advanced firearms expertise. I know that I learn best from patient teachers who empathize with my ignorance and help bring me out of it with knowledge well-shared, not from people who are insecure and braggadocios about telling me all that THEY know. I suggest that 90% of shooting instructors have much room for improvement in this area.
Depending on your personal philosophic and political worldviews, some instructors will be a better fit than others. Some people are infatuated with contemporary government warriors and enjoy “playing soldier” by dressing up in tacti-cool costumes and being yelled at by a, “REAL former Navy SEAL.” Many former military employees who worked as cooks, mechanics and special forces who have experience “in the sandbox” now have shooting instruction businesses in the US. The most dangerous students I have had are males between 50 and 75 who formerly worked for the government as cops or soldiers. Having said this, some of these folks learn and practice new and better safety skills after leaving their jobs. Many of our clients prefer a more friendly, calm and intellectual civilian learning style. What is best for you?
Another common personality type in shooting instructors is the retired engineer. This man has his NRA Basic Pistol Instructor certification (as do 60,000+ shooting instructors in the US) and is excited about the US government’s constitution and their 2nd amendment rights etc. This pot-bellied chauvinist has his heart in the right place and, “keeps a close eye on the womenfolk so they don’t point the gun dangerously.” This guy will talk about fringe gunpowder chemical technicalities that you don’t care about, just so that he can show you how brilliant he is.
Another shooting instructor type is the competitive shooter. These folks are probably your best bet. Competitive shooters know the latest and greatest techniques for shooting well. As you screen your potential instructors, see if they have competed in IDPA (lower level) or USPSA matches. As a former cop sniper team leader, I thought I was hot stuff. Then, I competed in the above matches and did very poorly compared to the plumbers, realtors and carpenters I was competing against. Based on my 10 years as a cop and subsequent 17 years of observation, I must honestly say that in general, the credential of being a “former cop” is generally not a positive thing. A downside of competitive shooters is that a person who is good at playing a game isn’t necessarily good at teaching others to play well.
Genders matter in terms of learning. Women communicate differently than men, and if an instructor ignores this or doesn’t even notice this difference, they might not be a good fit. Generally a man will impatiently want to speed through the lesson, and at the end does not shoot as well and has not learned as much as a woman. My experience is that women learn much more slowly, ask more questions, and shoot more slowly than men. 95% of shooting instructors prefer teaching women because, “they actually want to learn.” It is not easy to determine from a website how the instructor will communicate, but I share this consideration with you so that you are aware and can perhaps pick up on little clues.
Give it a try. You might need to take lessons from 2 or 6 different instructors until you find the perfect match for you. If you have a patient and curious attitude, you will learn from even the instructors who you don’t like.
Prices for a 2-hour lesson are similar to prices for a 2-hour concert. This ranges from having a few drinks on your patio with a pal who brings out their guitar and gives you a free concert to having the perfect seats at a Rolling Stones show. Some pricing has to do with hype, some with the market and some with quality. An “ok” instructor in Tucson Arizona might only be $50 or $100 per hour, and at the top end is our school in Jackson Hole Wyoming where a two-hour lesson is $500. Check for online ratings and reviews when available. Keep in mind though that shooting is great fun, and even an old man with a snarky personality like me can help people have fun and learn a bunch. I just looked up the lowest-end shooting academy I know of, and their rating is 4.3 stars on Google. Let’s face it, you are going to have a blast if you show up with a safe and happy attitude, eager to learn!