AAR: Tactical Application of Practical Shooting (T.A.P.S.) Rifle/Pistol
Instructor: Patrick McNamara
Date: 5 and 6 February, 2011
Location: Trigger Time, Carthage, NC
“There is more to tactical marksmanship than squeezing the trigger.”
- Pat McNamara
When this class announcement was first posted the usual places, I received calls from others in the training and shooting community in far away places encouraging me to not miss an opportunity to train with Pat in his first open enrollment course. Through his book and Mil/LE offerings, he has secured a reputation as being one of THE guys in the industry. The course was billed as a “Train-the-Trainer” program focused on mastering the fundamentals of shooting and employing them in an agile and adaptive manner. My interest was peaked for two reasons. First, I am always looking for quality sources that will help improve my shooting and learn new skills that may prove beneficial in real world or competition shooting. Second, as an “instructor” offering basic marksmanship and weapons manipulation learning opportunities at the local level, I am always looking for coaching on how to provide more value to those who choose to shoot with me. I would say this course offered both.
Training Day 1 - The Fundamentals
The weather was a little ornery in the morning, but Pat shifted the plan, and we pressed on with little or no impedance to the learning process. From the onset, it was evident this was going to be a different course. As is the ritual, the safety briefing began the day. Pat pointed out that the four firearm rules of safety are often paid little more than lip service, and offered his variation and expansion on those four rules and how they are applicable both on the range and in a combat environment. Pat puts a big emphasis on thought, rather than just blindly following repetitive drills or theatrics that may have roots in useful skills, but have now become ritualistic and meaningless. Once the range went hot, we spent an appreciable amount of time confirming zeros, and testing those zeros at various distances. We worked at medium distances (50 to 100 yards) for the majority of the morning and from a variety of positions. Our first of many “semi-bi-annual world championship of <insert skill here>” competitions was held, which was a fun way to put a little pressure on ourselves to perform in a competitive environment. We rounded out the morning with a little close distance rifle work and broke for lunch.
After lunch, we reconvened on the gravel-covered pistol range (a much welcomed break from the mud and the muck of the rifle range) for an afternoon of handgun fundamentals. As I’m sure we’ve all heard before, most that shoot well with the handgun shoot well with the rifle, but the converse is often not true. Furthermore, especially in the military realm, the handgun is neglected as just a backup or secondary. As Pat pointed out, it’s your secondary until it’s not, and that’s not the time to learn your skills are woefully lacking. These fundamental drills began with the simple and moved to the slightly more complex. We ran some of the favorites, like El Prez on the clock, but were only given a time if all rounds were in the A zone. All of Pat’s drills are run under strict “Go, No-Go” rules for accuracy, proper use of cover, proper weapons manipulation, etc. The object of each drill was to receive a time, and attempt to chip away seconds or fractions of a second with subsequent runs. This theme would carry into day two.
Training Day 2 – Applying the Fundamentals in a Tactical Environment
Much better weather on the second day, though the mud remaining from the torrential rains the day before made for some sloppy conditions. The morning was spent on the 100 yard rifle range “letting freedom ring with rifle blasts on steel” as Pat put it. Following the safety brief, we had a quick tutorial on weapon maintenance and using cover. The range again went hot, and we were given “sub-tasks” that were part of a bigger picture to work on and become familiar with. This is when Pat’s refreshing way of instructor was brought to the fore front. Rather than preach on a skill or task, and then hover over each student, micro-managing every movement, we were first encouraged to apply the fundamentals to the task at hand and think through the process ourselves. Pat offered input as needed, but only after we were allowed to work through solutions on our own. Once we were given time for personal discovery on each sub-task and a better understanding was achieved, another piece was added, and the process began again. This was repeated several times until we had rehearsed the necessary sub-tasks to complete more complex tasks. We were then given a “mission,” equipment requirements, ROE’s, and out came the shot timer. We ran through each drill with “Go, No Go” criteria and established a baseline for our own personal skill level. Once everyone had established his or her own starting point, we brought it in for a little “chit-chat,” and were shown more efficient and tactically superior ways to accomplish the same tasks. Every shooter drastically reduced time and increased effectiveness after Pat’s input.
After lunch, we again found ourselves on the upper range for some close-in work with the rifle and a bit more work with the handgun. One drill in particular forced us to actually apply rule No. 4 of firearms safety – know your target’s foreground and background. In order to successfully complete this drill, we were forced to perform a focal shift while shooting, rather than simply focus on the front sight or place the dot on target and squeeze the trigger. We rounded out the day with a 500 point aggregate from 20 yards with the handgun, some transition to secondary drills, and a walk back with the pistol on steel. Although I was tired, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I didn’t want the day to end.
TAPS is different from any other class I have attended, and Pat McNamara has a great teaching style. He is energetic and enthusiastic, and genuinely seems to give a sh!t whether or not his students are engaged in learning and improving their skills. He neither leaves anyone behind, nor lets anyone go unchallenged. He has a great sense of humor, yet is a no BS kind of guy. It was also refreshing to see him actually shooting every drill with us, not just demonstrating skills once and then standing around watching. However, never once did I feel like he was detached and using the class as his own little training session. When he made mistakes or dropped shots (which was not often), he didn’t offer excuses or try to hide it. Rather, he used those few moments as teaching opportunities. Throughout the course, he offered insight into what causes students to miss, how to spot issues when instructing others, and how to help remedy those shortcomings.
The group of shooters in this class was excellent. As such, we were able to move at a quick pace. I did not witness any unsafe acts, and everyone had a willing attitude and was thoroughly engaged. Pat seems to bring that out in his students. Everyone offered relevant tips and pointers to other shooters without sounding like “know-it-alls” and without giving the appearance they were trying to take over the class. I would rate this class as an intermediate to advanced level class, as there is not a lot of spoon feeding and hand holding. A good grasp of the fundamentals is required to get the most out of the TAPS curriculum. The course material was a refreshing departure from the standard “Ready, Up!” drills that are the standard in most courses. Drills and exercises where mentally and physically challenging. I believe that this course, along with Pat’s book, have given me excellent tools to apply to my shooting in my weekly training to take my shooting to the next level. In fact, since returning from the class, I have re-read parts of Pat’s book, and added to what I have highlighted substantially. I now have an even better understanding of what he was trying to convey in the text. I also believe I gained valuable insight that will help me develop in my limited instructor role.
I wanted to give a big thanks to Paul, Josh and Jon at Grey Group for putting on a great class. I enjoyed shooting with you guys, and appreciate the opportunities you bring to the shooting community for top-notch, world class training. I look forward to attending many more courses offered by Grey Group in the future.
In closing, anyone on the fence about training with Pat McNamara – take the leap. You will gain from this class. Furthermore, you can be confident that if Grey Group is hosting a class, it will be a top-notch experience.
Thanks for reading. Safe shooting,