At some point along our learning process, we realize there is only so much that YouTube, Facebook groups and forums can teach us. Sometimes we’ll get lucky and have a friend or mentor to help us to get started, but you don’t want to be limited to just their knowledge and experience. At this point, there is only one thing left to do if we want to avoid becoming stagnant in our ability; look for a firearms instructor, particularly a long range instructor.
Now, when looking for any type of firearms instructor it is very important to make sure you do your own research. Googling “firearms instructors near me” will absolutely give you a list of candidates that are “near you” and they may be “qualified” but chances are that they are not quality firearms instructors. Unfortunately the barrier for entry to become a firearms instructor in most states, is embarrassingly low. Even the NRA courses to become an instructor are a joke for anyone that has spent a fair amount of time using a firearm as part of their profession.
There are two main types of people that get these certs, those that get them because they believe that piece of paper works like fairy dust and makes them proficient, and those that get them because their state requires it. Most of the best instructors I know, poses NRA credentials, but it is because it makes getting insurance, clients, and certified by the state a lot easier. A good instructor does not need those credentials to be effective, and that certification will not turn a bad instructor into a good one either. So, be careful when those certs get thrown around and make sure to delve deeper into their experience as an instructor before hiring them.
How do I tell the difference between a good and bad instructor?
Now, you may be asking “how do I tell the difference between a good and bad instructor?” There are a couple of indicators you can use to determine if someone is going to be a good or a bad instructor.
The first will be firsthand accounts. Talk to people who have worked with that individual in the past, either as peers or as students. Ask them if they benefited from the instruction, and what it was they liked and disliked about their experience. This will help you to get a glimpse of their teaching style and hopefully will be your first indicator if an instructor is not worth your time or money.
When asking people for feedback, try to ask people who are around the same experience level you are. This is important because some instructors are really good at instructing the fundamentals and basics of firearm use, but do not have the training or experience for anything dynamic or advanced. They would get gleaming reviews from beginners but would most likely fall short of expectations when teaching a more experienced student.
Experience and Background
Next, you want to make sure they have the experience and background to properly instruct you on what you want to do. For this example we are discussing long range instruction. So, it is important to make sure they are a long range firearms instructor and not a firearms instructor that shoots long range. This is a subtle, but very important, distinction that needs to be established.
A long range instructor is capable of teaching and troubleshooting issues with various calibers, rifles, and students, and is comfortable with their abilities and limitations. An instructor that shoots long range is only capable of teaching the vary basics and has not yet mastered long range shooting.
They may or may not have experience with different calibers, rifles, scopes and applications. The latter is not the best choice when looking for long range instruction. You need someone you know will be comfortable with instructing you with your set up and has more experience than just having shot it a few times. A good instructor will have experience teaching a wide variety of students on different rifles and scopes for multiple applications. They should be capable of giving more in depth answers to questions rather than just reading bullet points off of a powerpoint and will be able to teach people in different ways depending on how that person learns. If they do not identify themselves as a long range instructor, then I would steer clear if that is your intended end goal.
Preferably, the instructor will also possess the professional background to back up why they are a long range instructor. There are many ways for someone to gain a solid background in long range shooting, such as military or law enforcement snipers, competition shooters, or long range hunting guides. The common trend for all of these is their profession is their passion. It takes years of constant use and training to understand and master, and it cannot be done on random weekends and breaks from their day job. These jobs require constant training and proficiency to remain relevant and successful. Even if they aren’t using the newest or highest quality gear for their work, they have a much better understanding of the importance of different aspects of it and the discipline required to maintain proficiency. It requires a very different mentality from someone who has become a skilled long range shooter, but has never relied on it for their livelihood or life.
Meeting your Instructor
So, you have done your research, and have found someone with the experience and recommendations to warrant further consideration, what do you do next?
Ideally you would try and meet this person face to face before working with them, if that isn’t possible, see if they have any content on social media on instructing or long range shooting. Here you are looking for queues towards their attitude and how they will treat students. It’s important that the instructor does not have an air of superiority about them. Too often I have seen instructors that consider themselves superior to their students and have a larger ego than their abilities can support. Even then, if they have a great ability, no one likes being looked down upon just for trying to improve.
Look for an instructor that fosters the “mentorship” mentality, who is willing to discuss topics instead of dictate them. This will foster a much more open education that is easier for the student to understand and enjoy. At the end of the day this is still meant to be fun and enjoyable sport, and even a capable instructor can ruin that if they have the wrong attitude.
We have talked about the instructor and what things to look for and what red flags to avoid, but one thing we have not talked about yet, that is almost more important than finding a good instructor, is to be a good student.
The Importance of Being a Good Student
As an instructor there is nothing more frustrating than a student who is constantly trying to prove they are already the best, that they don’t need help, or that they just don’t want to listen. If you have that attitude then save yourself some money and save the instructor some time and don’t take any lessons or classes.
Your attitude as the student should be open minded and willing to accept constructive corrections, after all, that is what you are paying for. Keep in mind that many changes may not produce immediate results, especially if it is correcting a bad habit. It may take time and repetitions for you to see improvement and results.
Understand that the instructor wants you to succeed and help them, to help you get there.
One of my favorite things as an instructor is to see the reaction of a student when a concept clicks and they can understand and apply something new they have learned. It is draining and frustrating when I have to repeat and debate a topic with a student just because “they have never done it that way”. If you plan on never changing your habits then, again, stay home.
As we talked about in the last paragraph, this should be more like a mentor mentee relationship than a traditional teacher student one. It is a two way street where both parties have to do their part for it to be successful.
Hopefully, after reading my ramblings for a little while, you are now a little more comfortable and confident in beginning, or continuing, your search for a long range firearms instructor. This should be an exciting endeavor and finding the right person to guide you can be the difference between this becoming a lifelong obsession or a quarantine pastime.