Pat McNamara 3 day TAPS, Sig Academy, Epping, NH 8 July – 10 July
I, along with at least one other Lightfighter (that I know of, roger up!), attended Pat McNamara’s three day Tactical Application of Practical Shooting (TAPS) class at the Sig Sauer academy range complex in Epping, NH (Map below). We booked this class through Alias Training in March of this year. Tuition was $700 for the course, and 750 rounds of rifle / 750 rounds of pistol ammunition were listed as required.
The student to Instructor ratio for this class was 32:1, of which approximately 10 students were Sig Academy instructor staff.
The class experience level appeared to range from completely locked on to one or two who appeared brand new to gun handling. It was heavily populated with cops, especially tactical officers, from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, and one or two from New York.
This AAR is certainly far from a complete picture of the course, both purposely and as a function of my memory. I can or will expand upon areas if anyone has questions, however I have purposely NOT detailed much of the POI. I don’t say this to sound like a dick, but I don’t intend this to be a free dissemination of intellectual property belonging to the instructor.
TD 1: Class met at 0800 at the range. It was hot. Pat gave a short lecture on Performance vs. Outcome training, how athletes think and how it improves what level they can perform at. Pat’s energy was apparent to all in attendance, and I could tell he is exceptionally passionate about what he teaches. He laid it right out that he knows he is a civilian now, but feels he is still serving by helping train law enforcement, armed citizens, and military members of our nation.
Pat gave his version of the safety brief, which has been adequately covered before on this forum. I’ll briefly touch on what I can recall: 1) Always understand the status of your weapon: Pat doesn’t like “treat every weapon as if it were loaded” because…. Not all weapons are always loaded. If you are dry firing in your house or cleaning your gun, and YOU have verified it is not loaded, then it is not loaded. 2) Never cover anything with your muzzle that you do not wish to destroy. 3) Keep booger hooks off the trigger and the safety on until the shooter has a sight picture and is ready to fire. 4) Know what lies between you and your target, beyond your target, and to the left and right of your target. This requires a focal shift for the shooter to recognize not just the target and immediately behind it.
Pat pointed out that many trainers and ranges teach a dogmatic method of “safety”, which makes the safety brief an administrative exercise. (This concept came up later, when talking about “search and assessing” after firing. Pat reiterated many times the need to remove theatrics and administrative tasks whenever possible. This does not include loading the weapon when it IS an administrative task, like before beginning a stage of fire or leaving base on a mission).
We fired a variety of drills encompassing Basic Rifle Marksmanship throughout the morning, before utilizing pistols in the afternoon. The drills were well thought out and challenging for both weapons. While the range was large, the firing line was rather crowded.
Pat kept the pace of the course well timed, especially with the hot temperatures. We would fire a drill or two, then gather to discuss and move into the next drill.
TD 2: Hot again, high 80’s, but with a good breeze across the range. We started with a reiteration of the safety brief. Not many people spoke up when Pat was asking questions and quizzing us on the previous day’s material, perhaps because it was intimidating for some to throw out answers with 32 others looking on and possibly be wrong.
We started with pistols from the 50 yard line with a drill Pat called “Limits Begin where Vision Ends”. We fired 5 rounds with both hands, 5 rounds strong hand only, and 5 round support hand only on ISPC targets. We ran through that twice, with the goal of improving our score the second time. Pat mentioned that if he only had 50 handgun rounds with which to train, this is the drill he would do as it vastly improved his closer-in shooting.
We fired the “Einstein” drill, which is 10 yards, 2.5 second par time, single shot from the holster into the “A” zone of an IPSC target. We did that 5 reps each.
Then we put up SR-1 bullseye targets and moved to the 100 yard line. We fired 10 rounds standing, checked the targets, fired 10 rounds kneeling, checked the targets, and 10 rounds sitting. We taped up the targets and went back to the 100. We fired 5-5-5-5 rounds each, standing/kneeling/sitting/prone. We went through this twice, again with the goal of improving from first to second time (which was also a theme throughout the class).
We then ran through the El Presidente drill with shot timers. We didn’t bother downloading pistol magazines, so the reload was slightly artificial because it was on a pistol with the slide forward and a round in the chamber. We went through this three times (I think). All hits had to be in the A zone on the IPSC, and each round you had to improve your time for “SUCCESS”. If you tossed one shot out of the “A” zone, you got a “NO GO” for time. Pat stressed living in your “house” for how long you need to take to do this drill, and improve the structure of your house.
We had a short meeting on rifle reloads and transitions, then went off to fire 3 rifle rounds, reload, fire 3 more rifle rounds, then transition to pistol and fire a single round. Pat stressed that he wanted us to get “meaningful repetitions” and etch the feeling of an empty rifle into our subconscious minds. Pat also wanted us to be sure the rifle went on safe between reloads, and an “attempted safe” before transitioning to pistol. Pat continuously told us that the safety is “Always an enabler, never a disabler”. We could do as many repetitions of this as we wanted, there was no set amount of reps or rounds. Pat reiterated not overthinking the transition, which I thought was an excellent point: Drop the thing that doesn’t work, pick up the thing that works. There was no scoring and no time for this drill. Pat told us that the time to perform magazine changes is “when we need to, or when we want to”. This resonated with me, as I don’t get as much work with partial magazine reloads as I used to. Pat said that if you are performing a magazine change with a rifle because you “need” to, then you are probably fucked up and your situational awareness failed you. Pat talked about proximity of the enemy being a factor in whether to reload or transition, and the fact that most everyone can transition to the pistol faster than they can reload the rifle.
Just before lunch we had a discussion about malfunctions, the different types, and the ways to clear them. This was good chat because it didn’t appear many of the students had ever heard this before. Pat set up the different malfunctions with dummy rounds and showed the class what they look like.
Right after lunch we did the 5-5-5-5 rifle shoot from the 50 yard line on the SR-1 bullseye, for individual time. A zone was no penalty, C zone or head was 1 second added, D zone was 2 seconds added, misses were 5 seconds added. When Pat was asked why the head was still a one second penalty, the answer was “because we aren’t fucking aiming there, you’re aiming at the A zone”. We ran through this twice, again with the goal of improving personal score from the first round to the second round.
We then did a drill calling for single shot from the holster on steel. We broke up into groups of about 5 or 6 shooters, with Pat’s shot timers. Each shooter would shoot three rounds of: straight on, facing uprange to start, taking a step left (law of averages says something like 90% of males are right handed, and MOST poor shooters miss to the left, so by taking a step left we are moving in the direction LEAST likely to be struck). Times actually improved while stepping to the left, Pat explained this as the fact that our brains function more efficiently while moving than it does standing still.
TD 3: We met at an adjacent range in the Sig complex, with multiple bays. Class started off with a chitchat about shooting around and from barricades/cover, using the multiple VTAC barricades the range had on hand. Pat was quick to point out the dogmatic stupidity that some suffer from when they whine about barrels extending past cover, etc. (but pointed out the POI shift resting a barrel on cover could produce). Pat compared shooting from back in a room and shooting from shadowy areas to being in defilade, as opposed to standing right in the opening of available cover and silhouetting yourself.
We did some rifle shooting from the barricades on steel that was about 50 yards away. This evolution went on for as many rounds as we wanted to fire, or however much ammunition we wanted to expend. After we finished firing from the barricades, we discussed communication and the importance of communicating things like “moving” or reloading an empty weapon. We started on one flank of the firing line in pairs of two, with magazines of 5 rounds to increase the reloads we needed to do. Shooters leapfrogged one another with the “success criteria” of not both reloading at the same time, or reloading while a partner is moving. We went across the range one direction, and then back across.
We had another chitchat, and walked through the various rifle drills Pat had set up in different bays. There were four different drills (which I will summarize rather than go in super depth, as these are Pat’s drills and if you haven’t seen his YouTube videos or taken a course with him, you should just do that):
“Set it Off”, “Scrambler”, “Light the Fuse”, and a drill with one magazine of 20 in which you fire a single shot at steel 50 yards away, safety on, switch shoulders, fire another single round, safety on….. until you are out of rounds. Not for time.
The Scrambler was a “practice” run, and if you didn’t meet the success criteria then you received a NO GO for your time. The Scrambler was described very purposely with a set of conditions and requirements, no other information was given. This led a lot of shooters (myself included) to overthink the drill, and forget some of the lessons Pat had taught us earlier on.
After lunch we did a walkthrough of the various pistol drills that were set up in different bays, in addition to Light the Fuse and the Scrambler that remained open for rifle. The class broke and we were free to roam between whatever drills we wanted. Everyone went through the Scrambler a second time, during the World Championship round.
The pistol drills were “Grid of Fire”, “Bianchi”, “Target Transition”, “Turn and Burn”, and another that the name evades me of (steel target, start at a back left cone, timer goes off, get a hit, move forward, get another hit, move to cone on the right, get a hit, move forward, hit, move left, hit, move back, hit, move right, hit, move back, hit.)
Aside from the requirement that everyone fire the Scrambler for a World Championship attempt, we were free to move about the bays and fire whatever combination of drills however many times we felt necessary. As Pat put it each training day, he doesn’t know what time the class will finish, it ends when he sees the “light fading” in shooter’s eyes. We gathered for a course wrap up around 1530. Pat summarized the main points of the course, and we all went our separate ways.
Final thoughts: I am really glad that I was able to attend this class. Pat is a superb instructor, and it’s very apparent that he is highly intelligent. In addition to being a world class shooter, he has the ability to instruct and kept the class at rapt attention throughout the entire three days. He made himself available during lunch time to students and always answered questions completely when asked. Pat’s energy and enthusiasm for what he is teaching motivated the entire class. When debriefing each evening over beers, fellow LF’r and I mentioned many times that we would pay quite a bit just to see a Pat lecture, as it was obvious he had so much to offer that probably couldn’t squeeze into the course. Pat mentioned that he used to think of himself as the nation’s Batman when he was in the military, but now we are carrying that torch. The guy is a legit hero, and by everything I could observe, an awesome dude.
The Sig Academy is an awesome, awesome venue. There were no range Nazi’s, the place was clean and well maintained. Brass was left where it lay. A cooler of water bottles on ice was provided each day, and we definitely made use of it. The ranges are expansive and targetry is high quality. Very good place to take a class at.
The elephant in the room is the 32:1 ratio. Pat mentioned that he does not know how many students are in a class until he shows up on TD 1. It is no secret that some of his classes have been overbooked, and we knew that going in. Alias even offered refunds to attendees of the particular class linked below, however I recently inquired of some Uniontown students what the refund was, and was unpleasantly shocked to learn the details. I am a little befuddled why Alias acknowledged the problem, but then ran a class 3 or 4 months later with not only the same problem, but worse.
I was contacted by a couple different members on here a few months prior to the course, and they said they would not be attending specifically due to the overbook issues. We decided to stick it out and go, treating it is as a learning experience with Alias, Pat, and taking professional training courses in general. I have to assume Alias is losing money and QUALITY students (like those found on here) because people are hesitating to use them. That being said, they will obviously continue to make money from wealthy guys who just want to go see a “big name” instructor and don’t even notice things like overbooked classes. I got the impression that Pat isn’t the type of guy who is doing this solely for money…
Speaking of money, my total outlay for this course was:
Ammunition (some free from work, some from my existing stock, some purchased, this figure is only counting specific ammo purchased for this course): $400
Vacation days consumed from work: Three ($Priceless)… just kidding, but it was three days
Housing (campsite nearby): $80
Approximate total: $1330
In summary, do I think the class size detracted from what I was able to extract from Pat’s teaching? Yes, but not catastrophically. I was still able to learn and take nuggets of knowledge from someone who has far more experience than I ever will doing this sort of thing. The difference with the huge class was the lack of personal interaction with the instructor, and not as much individual coaching while firing the drills. Pat NEVER turned a student down or away who asked a question, but seeking him out to ask for feedback over and over was not going to happen. Nobody wants to be “that guy” who goes over to the instructor every two minutes to ask for personalized coaching… at least not in a class of 32. It just wouldn’t work. More than a few classmates mentioned or discussed the large size in sidebar conversations during break or lunch.
This may be a case of expectations vs. reality, as Pat’s teaching methods focus toward Discovery Learning and not him coaching you constantly. He treated the class like the adults we all were, and the expectation was that you would implement the skill he had taught during the subsequent drills. Students coached each other and pointed out mistakes (both things that were encouraged by Pat).
I am very glad I took this class. I will not book through Alias Training again unless the course specifically lists a max student figure or a student to instructor ratio. I would absolutely take a class with Pat again, but I would want to verify how many other students would be there before I do. Pat’s POI doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to having assistant instructors, as he is the main attraction and he has developed what he teaches through years of experience. I think it is hard or artificial to bring someone else in, unless they have the same experiences Pat does.