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How to get the most out of training

Updated: Mar 29

First off, as the Lead Instructor here at PCA LLC, I want to thank you for your interest and commend you on being willing to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things, possibly for the first time, and in front of other people. The fear of failure can be a strong feeling and may cause some people to be uncomfortable or not to train at all. Defensive skills and the self protection are important and better with training. We structure our training carefully so that it is conducive to both new and experienced shooters.

Your time is valuable. The price of the ticket, equipment, and supplies to attend the training are also valuable. We don't take this investment lightly. We want you to receive your monies worth. The best ways to do that is after finding a good instructor or program is to show up prepared to train. I'm going to share my thoughts on what I like to see at the start of class especially from students new to me.

First show up with an open mind. Some students attend training to tell the Instructor what they know or validate what they learned on YouTube. If you've vetted the Instructor and feel that they have something to offer you give them a chance to offer it. Try to understand the context that they are presenting material in and ask relevant questions. Keep in mind that specialized training has specific purposes. If you took a deep sea diving class don't be upset when they don't teach you to skydive. Also don't sign up for the "advanced" class because you're too high speed to start with the basics. Unless you've already taken other foundational courses with a similar focus you likely will not be successful and may create a drag on the class. Training curriculum is built like a pyramid and requires the base and then the layers. You can't start with the tip first.

Any Intro, Basic, or Foundational skills class is expecting you to be new or newer to the skills presented and will not pressure you to perform beyond your skill level. If you have never fired a gun before you should contact the Instructor and make sure that the course agenda will allow them to work with you directly. This is common and you shouldn't be embarrassed about being a new shooter. We love to welcome new people to the shooting community.

Be prepared to take notes. Some Instructors will allow recording or pictures but you should always ask first. Remember that this is their material with author's copyright so don't copy or use it without permission. It's very common to take the same course multiple times to fully learn all of the material that is contained within the presentation.

There is some palpable division in our society today unfortunately. Speaking for PCA LLC and other Instructors I've spoken to on this topic we welcome all people regardless of race, creed, color, gender, social status, religion, or affiliation assuming it's lawful. We expect everyone to treat each other with respect and common decency. Often the people who benefit the most from personal defense training fall into some category or another so come one come all. The one exception is if you can't legally handle firearms or wish to obtain training for illegal purposes. You are not welcome.

Have all of the equipment recommended in the course description. We have experience teaching these courses and know what you'll likely need. Nothing is more harmful to your success than failing to bring required or even the suggested equipment. The instructor may have loaner items to help but nothing replaces training with your own equipment even if to learn that it is sub-par and that you may benefit from replacing it. Some classes have loaner or rental equipment so that you can try before you buy.

To make this material a bit easier to follow I'm going to break out some specific areas of focus.

Loading / Unloading Firearms:

For defensive firearms training we fully expect students to show up with concealed carry hand guns. We don't want you to handle or unload them in the car, parking lot, and NEVER in the class prep / student areas. The Instructor will give you precise instructions on when, where, and how to unload carried firearms. Usually this will require everyone at the firing line on the range and at the same time going through a supervised unloading procedure. If you are not carrying the firearm you plan to train with it should be properly cased and already unloaded so that it can be safely handled when instructed to do so as part of the class preparation. In this case the Instructor will give you direction on how and when to exchange your carried gun for your training gun. When leaving the range we want you to switch back or reload your carry gun. The Instructor will give you directions on how and when to do this. If the Instructor does not give you clear direction related to unloading or loading always ask first. This is a very sensitive subject and will likely get people fired up if you don't do it to their liking. Ranges may also have specific requirements that you may not be familiar with. Better to ask first than assume how you usually do it is OK.

Some training is conducted on a "cold" range and some on a "hot" range. A cold range is when firearms are unloaded between strings of fire. A hot range is when they are not unloaded between strings of fire and the student is expected to safety and properly carry or wear a loaded firearm between firing strings. Some classes will combine these behaviors. The Instructor should always make it clear what is expected and if you're unsure ask them.

Once firearms are loaded (hot range) they must remain securely holstered and/or under your physical control (in hand or slung) with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction with your finger off of the trigger except when appropriate to fire or be unloaded (cold range) and the slide/action locked open or cylinder opened and the firearm benched or racked with the barrel pointing in a safe direction. This allows everyone to see that the firearm is unloaded and not in a firing condition. Long guns should be racked barrel down if the rack is low and barrel up if the rack is high. You don't want to have the muzzle pointed at you when you retrieve the long gun from the rack. Other safety rules may apply and this paragraph should not be construed as fully inclusive of all required aspects of safe firearm handling.

Classes using Non-Firing Replicas or AirSoft/Paint Ball/Marking Cartridges:

Some classes are designed to be taught without using live firearms, ammunition or weapons. For these types of classes firearms and real weapons are usually forbidden on the training property and a strict safety protocol will be followed. Obtain direction first so that your behavior and equipment are appropriate for type of class.

Safety Equipment:

Eye and ear protection is required for any firearms training.

Wear glasses with properly rated safety lenses that fit your face and fully cover your eyes. A wrap around style is preferred with sturdy ear pieces. You will not look good as a Pirate. If you're already a Pirate you've failed to learn the important lesson of protecting your eyes once. Don't make the same mistake twice. If the training will have a low light or "darkness" portion be sure to have clear lenses. Most shooting glasses are available with interchangeable lenses and usually have shaded, clear, and yellow/orange. Lenses that transition dark to light based on lighting conditions may not get light enough for safe low light use so always have clear lenses for this purpose. We also highly suggest a ball cap or billed hat that covers the gap between your glasses and your brow. This is to prevent hot brass from dropping between your face and safety glasses. Getting a 2nd degree burn on your eyelid from hot rifle brass is no fun. To keep lenses from fogging have some "Cat Crap" brand anti-fog spray or paste. You can find it on Amazon.

Hearing protection can be accomplished using ear plugs or muffs that are designed for the shooting sports. We highly prefer the electronic ear muffs that protect you from loud noises above 85 dB but amplify lower volume noises so that you can easily hear the Instructor teaching. We feel so strongly about this we toy with the idea of making them mandatory for our classes. You can get a decent pair of electronics ear muffs for $50-90 on Amazon. Look for the Howard Leight, Walker, and Peltor brands. I have never had a student upset that they spent this small amount of money to get electronic muffs. Bring spare batteries for them. They will fail during class when it's most inconvenient.

Medical / 1st Aid:

You should bring some of the elastic type athletic stick to anything band aids and a roll of athletic stick to anything medical tape. Also your severely allergic bring your medicine and make the Instructor aware of your condition. Sunscreen and bug repellent are a must for outdoor training. If you really want to impress the Instructor show up with a rapid deploy tourniquet like the CAT7 and a belt pouch for it. They are available on Amazon but if you pay less than $30 for the TQ you're getting a cheap knock off. Only buy quality life saving equipment. You can then add an IFAK or "Blow Out" kit. If you don't know what that means you don't need it yet. Any quality Instructor will have a trauma kit and medical plan for emergencies. If you are taking a firearms class and the Instructor doesn't have a trauma kit or suitable medical plan leave immediately whether they will give you a refund or not.


If you are prescribed any emergency medicine bring it just in case. If you are taking any medicine that would limit driving or using heavy machinery you should not be on the range or training with firearms or weapons.

Other Safety Equipment:

Depending on the course material you may benefit from elbow or knee pads, gloves, etc. You'll likely need knee pads more than elbow pads but for rifle classes both are suggested. Handgun classes generally use standing or kneeling positions. Make sure the pads stay in place and offer enough protection so you could fall down from standing and protect your knees and elbows. They don't have to be hard pads. Gloves are tricky as they may impair your ability to manipulate the firearm if they are too bulky. In some rifle or specialty classes your may need gloves to deal with heat and/or sharp edges or during cold weather in general. We really like the Mechanix brand gloves. Their basic gloves work great and are available from Amazon or your local auto repair or hardware store for $20 or less. Make sure they fit you well. No sloppy fingers or oversize padded gloves please. Bring hand warmers for your pockets and thinner gloves if it will be cold.


Dress for moderate athletic activity. Wear comfortable closed toe athletic footwear like hiking boots or athletic shoes. Sandals, open toed shoes, or heels are not appropriate. Wear comfortable long pants with pockets that you can do knee bends in. Sweats, joggers, or leggings are not usually appropriate. Remember we wear pistols on belts so you need pants with sturdy belt loops. Consider wearing long sleeves even if it's hot out to protect from the sun and hot brass. Do not wear v-neck or droopy open neck lines as they will catch hot brass and funnel it right where you don't want it to go. Popping your collar may be out of style everywhere except at the gun range.

Assume the weather will either be hotter, colder, windier, or wetter than expected and bring appropriate clothing to deal with changes in the conditions. It's easier to bring it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Getting soaked or freezing makes for a really tough day of training. Dress in layers that you can add or remove rather than a single bulky jacket. Also remember that you have to access your firearm and supporting gear. There is an entire market for shooting sport / tactical based clothing that is helpful but not required. I personally find that a base layer top & bottom, wool socks, water proof boots, wind resistant pants, and then a polar fleece top tucked in, and a wind blocking / waterproof jacket is sufficient to about 40 degrees. It's unlikely you'll be training below that temperature unless you're taking some kind of specialty course and then you signed up for that torture so dress accordingly.

Food / Snacks / Drinks:

In many cases ranges are located in the boondocks so popping off site for lunch isn't convenient or time efficient. We suggest trail type snacks, protein bars, nuts, beef jerky, sandwiches, etc to keep your energy up. Firearms training is not the time to have a caloric deficiency. In my classes I prefer everyone have breakfast, snack during class while we take short breaks, and then plan for dinner after whether alone or as a class. We hold the class momentum much better than if we take a formal lunch break. You must stay hydrated even when it's cold out. Resist the urge to drink a lot of sports drinks. Alternate with water. Bring a thermos with coffee or soup for cold days. Don't expect to cook or even microwave unless you have confirmed with the Instructor that the training site has those capabilities. It's better to be prepared than be hungry because you can't microwave your frozen meal. Be prepared to take your own trash home with you just in case. Alcohol or edibles are never appropriate.


Bring firearms appropriate for the course. Go to an indoor rental range before class and make sure it operates properly, doesn't jam, and is sighted in reasonably well. If you have a spare firearm you should bring it. Guns go down in class and if you don't have a spare you're likely watching from the sidelines. In some cases the Instructor may have a loaner but you should not count on this unless you coordinated with them in advance.


Bring the ammunition that fits your firearm (proper caliber) and meets the training requirements. Armor piercing, tracer, or incendiary rounds are almost never acceptable. When in doubt ask. Generally we want you to bring basic full metal jacket (FMJ) or total metal case (TMC) training ammo at standard velocities. This is usually also the least expensive. Some ranges may require special "clean" or "frangible" ammunition. If that is the case they will make that very clear up front. Bring more ammunition than the class calls for. If you run out it won't be fun and you shouldn't expect to be able to buy more onsite. Even if you can buy it onsite it will not be at the best price. What you don't shoot you can take home and use for practice.

It is much more efficient for loading during training if you use military style ammo cans and dump your boxed ammunition into the cans. One can per caliber. NEVER mix ammunition caliber or type in a single can. Tear a box flap or fold the ammo box flat and toss it into the can so you know exactly what brand, type, caliber, and lot # you are using. A .30 cal ammo can will hold 1000 rds of 9mm pistol amm0 and a .50 cal ammo can will hold 1000 rds of .223/5.56mm rifle ammo. When your can is empty pour in 200/250 rds and then use a paint pen or piece of tape to mark the level. Repeat until the can is full. This way you can easily tell how much ammunition you have left. We like the metal military style cans more than the plastic ones because the plastic handles can break under the weight.

Magazines / Speed Loaders:

Bring the proper fit and suggested quantity of magazines and/or speed loaders for your firearms. We generally expect at least the ability to fully load once and reload twice before sending off the firing line to resupply. If you bring a lower capacity firearm bring more reloading capability so that you can keep up with the higher capacity crowd as the reps will be designed for them unless specifically noted as a lower capacity firearm training course. We highly suggest having separate training and defensive magazines. We don't want to put the training wear and tear on life saving equipment and we don't want to waste time changing ammo out of magazines. Also please show up to class with your training magazines loaded with training ammunition. Nothing slows the start of class more than loading magazines. Also please buy a Maglula Uploader brand magazine loader for your pistol and/or rifle. Of all the magazine load assist devices the Maglula is our favorite and makes loading easy and painless. If you don't have one expect to have sore hands and fingers from loading magazines for class. This will be the best $30 you ever spend! Just toss it into the ammo can so you always have it with your training ammo.

Holsters, Reload Pouches, & Pistol Belt:

Bring a properly fitting holster and be prepared to wear it as designed. Do not bring a SERPA or SERPA style (finger release trigger guard lock) holster. These are unsafe and often not allowed. Also do not show up with an appendix inside the waistband (AIWB) holster without first confirming that the Instructor will allow you to use it during training. These holsters carry additional concerns and use may be restricted to students meeting specific prerequisites to indicate the skill necessary to utilize this type of holster safety. This also applies to the various alternative holsters like belly bands, shoulder holsters, off body carry, and the like. At PCA LLC we can offer courses specifically for these carry methods but all courses do not facilitate their use so please check with us first.

A proper modern handgun holster will specifically fit your firearm, cover the trigger guard & trigger, not interfere with any manual safeties, attach securely to your belt without undue movement, and will have at least a strong fiction fit so that you could do a somersault or "combat roll" without losing your firearm. We like J&M Custom Kydex, Raven Concealment, Safariland, Bianchi, Bladetech, Philster, C&G, and other similar holsters. You can also find some reasonable economy holsters on Amazon believe it or not but be careful as you are just as likely to end up with some junk. We actually find the Amberide brand on Amazon to be pretty good for basic CCW holsters and mag pouches.

The ability to carry at least one spare reload on your belt is critical as almost every class will require the "speed" or emergency reload be practiced. Trying to pull a spare reload out from who knows where is usually not fast or easy. Generally we like to see two reloads for handguns and at least one for rifle. Additional reloads can be stuffed into pockets and used to back fill the speed reload pouch.

A proper "pistol belt" is one that is designed to hold the weight of the firearm and reload(s) without sagging, or comprising the holster stability and rapid engagement of the firearm or reload during the draw/holster or reloading processes. Generally a pistol belt is 1.5-1.75" wide (top to bottom) and has a stiffener between the outer and inner layers. The belt can be leather or synthetic. Our favorite concealed carry or EDC belts are those made by Ares Gear (Enhanced Aegis Belt) and Mean Gene Leather using the Ares Gear buckle. There are of course others but these brands will give you a good starting point.

Range Bag:

You should have a range bag to hold your 1st aid supplies, support gear, eye/ear protection, training magazines and possibly also 1-2 (unloaded) hand guns. Having everything organized in a range bag really helps you arrive at class ready to go. Almost 100% of students who forget critical equipment for class don't use a specific organized range bag. There are many on the market but my favorites so far are the bags from Midway USA sold under their brand name and the Savior brand bags. They are expensive enough to be good and cheap enough to replace if I tear them up through use.

Long Gun Case:

If you are taking a class with a long gun you should have an appropriate soft or hard case that properly fits your firearm. The firearm should be brought to the range unloaded and secured in the case. Many cases also offer outside pockets to carry magazines and/or spare ammo. Wait to get long guns out of the cases until given direction to do so.

Plate Carriers, Helmets, & Battle Belts:

Tactical gear like this is usually a specialty requirement and not necessary for most personal defense training. If you're taking a class that requires some of this gear you have likely completed enough foundational course work to know what you need. If you're not sure and think you need a tactical kit feel free to ask us. Or if you want help setting one up we're happy to assist and have already made all of the mistakes so you don't.

Long Gun Slings:

Generally all long guns should have a proper sling on them. Many course require the transition between long gun to handgun and without a sling this can be difficult. A sling is to a long gun what a holster is to a hand gun. Also all slings are not equal. Dropping an expensive long gun due to a cheap sling is not a good look. At PCA LLC we generally teach practical courses so we're going to want you to use a quality tactical quick adjust sling. We really like the Magpul MS1 sling. It is our favorite. We also like the Blue Force Gear and Viking Tactical slings. We do not advocate a 3 point sling. This was an older style that has gone out of style. Please don't show up to class with a 3 point sling. We feel similarly about the 1 point slings. Although still useful they are specialized. A good 2 point sling is optimal. The Magpul MS3 is an MS1 with their attachment point allowing conversion between 2 point and 1 point which is optimal if you insist on having 1 point sling capability. If the course is focused on specialty skills other slings may be employed. When in doubt ask before showing up if your equipment is appropriate. If you are taking a long gun class and have problems with your sling you will fight it the entire time and likely ruin your experience.

Optics & Zero Distance:

We are fans of the pistol red dot and highly recommend them but they are not at all required for class. If you show up with a RDS pistol sight great. If you show up with an iron sighted pistol equally great. Don't rush out and buy a pistol red dot because you think you need it for class. For long guns the various name brand red dots, low power variable optics, and high power variable optics are all good. If you buy junk or "just as good as" optics expect to have them fail in class and ruin your day. Yes we have seen even the most expensive brands fail on the range but no where near the frequency that the others do. Anything electronic or mechanical can fail. Junk fails at a faster rate.

Unless the class specifically notes a sight in or "zero" procedure as part of the instruction we expect you to show up with zeroed sighting system(s). It's not fair to the rest of the students if you slow down the class because we need to get you zeroed up.

For red dot sighted pistols we generally like either the 15 or 25 yard zero. For red dot sighted carbines we prefer and will teach almost exclusively the 50/200 yard zero. For highly magnified optics (HPVO) we will use a 100yd zero almost exclusively. The exception is the low power variable optic (LPVO) which may benefit from a 50/200 depending upon how you wish to utilize it.

If you're not sure about which zero or how to zero properly ask with enough time before class so you can go to the range and accomplish it or make plans with the Instructor to show up early to class and do a quick zero before class starts. You might not be the only student who needs to do this since many people do not have easy access to a rifle distance range so the Instructor will usually be understanding and helpful.


Unless you are taking a specialty class like using Night Vision, wearing gas masks, or shooting in asymmetric positions you don't need a laser.


Bring spare batteries for everything. If you have electronics you need to have lots of spare batteries. Don't expect the instructor or other students to give you theirs. They need them too. It's best practice to put fresh batteries into everything to start class fresh. Also make sure everything works. If I had a $1 for every time a student said "it worked last time" I'd be retired.

Class Behavior:

We expect you to be interested and pay attention to the instruction being provided. Put your phones on silent and put them away (unless you're using them for notes then be appropriate). Save the war stories and don't over share. If everyone did that you would lose an hour or more of the instruction you paid to attend. As the Instructor I have a block of material I hope to accomplish. It is common that I an unable to provide all of the material by the time class ends. We plan for faster or slower classes. If you want the most out of your training $ talk less and listen more.

Rang Behavior:

We expect you to pay attention, follow direction exactly as it is given, and be on high alert like you're in a room full of snakes and you don't want to step on any. We will have fun and learning will occur but safety must be our first priority without exception. If we aren't first safe we can't do anything else. The Instructor may have to adjust the lesson plan to stay within the capabilities of the students to perform safely. There is no value pressing beyond your ability to operate safely on the range. I'm very proud when students approach me and ask for an extra break or to step off the line while the other students continue because they had reached a point where they needed a break so that they could return and perform safely. When dealing with firearms which are inherently dangerous the Instructor cannot create or maintain a completely safe environment. The goal is to have the safest environment possible given the course work with redundant safety measures. Active student participation in the safety plan is required for success. Everyone on the range is a safety officer and can call a ceasefire or halt to the training activities. Students should not attempt to provide additional instruction or safety direction unless specifically qualified to do so.

Specialized Training Areas:

If you are participating in specialized training you may find yourself in a special training area or environment with special instructions or safety requirements. The Instructor will provide them and explain the context that they should be employed in. When in doubt ask.

In closing I want to say thank you again for taking the time to read all of this material and I hope that you found it useful.

I'm looking forward to seeing you at one of our classes.

David Newman

Lead Instructor - PCA LLC

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