Yesterday I had the opportunity to take the Basic Handgun course with Alpha Dog Tactical, with Jeff Patane leading the course, and assisted by a second instructor named Matt. Going in to the course, I was a little concerned it would be a repetition of the NRA Basic Pistol course I’ve previously taken. I completely misjudged the course description, and this course was far more than I had hoped.

The course began promptly at 8:00 AM, and I hate to admit I was a few minutes late. Jeff began by covering course logistics (timing, breaks, porta potty, etc.) and then moved into a discussion of safety. He pointed out the backpack he has containing a trauma kit in the worst case, but provided that he has a “zero extraneous hole” record and would like to keep it that way. (We succeeded.)

We moved on to a review of the basic firearms safety rules. Because Jeff teaches with a mind to tactical situations, he has a few variants on the safety rules, starting with trigger control. He insists not only on keeping your finger off the trigger, but having your trigger finger on a designated index point on the firearm. For his Glock, he recommended the edge of the ejection port. With my CZ-75, I ended up using the back end of the slide stop that protrudes through the right side of the frame. He also covered the importance of being aware of your target and what is behind it, and not allowing anything you don’t want to destroy to cross your muzzle. He emphasizes trigger control because, in a tactical/defensive situation, it may be the only part of the situation the shooter can control.

Once we completed the safety discussion, Jeff demonstrated the various stances and grips he has used over the years. Like many, he culminated with the isoceles stance and a two-handed grip favoring as much contact with the frame and grip as possible. We moved on to dry fire exercises with Jeff and Matt walking the line and providing feedback on our grip and stance.

Next, we began live fire exercises. We began with slow-fire 3-round groups at 7 yards, repeated 4-5 times. As we did this, Jeff and Matt were again reviewing our technique and providing feedback. At the end, Jeff walked the line and critiqued each individual grouping as to likely causes. He did this with the entire class, so we could learn by looking at each other’s groups as well.

Jeff then covered malfunction drills for all 3 malfunction types: failure to fire, failure to eject (stovepipe) and failure to extract/double feed. He taught us the appropriate clearing procedures: both immediate action and remedial action. We then performed drills for each of the malfunction types. This was one of my favorite parts, as I’d never had the opportunity to clear anything but type 1 malfunctions.

After this, we spent more time doing live fire drills at 7 and 10 yards, with both slow and rapid fire drills. Rapid fire was interesting – it’s amazing how quickly my concentration on each of the fundamental skills lapses when shooting rapidly. (I’m happy to say these lapses were only of technique, not of safety issues.)

Jeff has a very direct teaching style. While he does not insult or abuse students like a military drill instructor, he does not beat around the bush when correcting a mistake or offerring an improvement. More than once he called me out on “slapping the trigger”, and he was absolutely right. I also have a bad habit of trying to look over the sights to see where my shot landed, which of course ruins my follow-through.

Jeff does not hesitate to use any student for a possible teaching moment. This is not to embarass, but is an opportunity for the whole class to learn. For example, we had one student have a negligent discharge during a reload, and this lead to a discussion of how to avoid a repeat of this. (Good news, it was pointed downrange, no risk of injury.)

Jeff is also very big on the why of things. He does not expect you’ll take his word for things to do, but explains why you’re doing them. I find this useful for several reasons: it reinforces the technique, I’m always curious about the why anyway, and it helps you decide whether something will work well for you. He reiterates multiple times that not every technique works for everyone or every firearm, but is teaching you based on his experience and training.

Overall, I was very happy with the quality of the course and found Jeff and Matt to be excellent instructors. I got quality feedback on my technique, and excellent training on clearing malfunctions. I’ll need to periodically set up for some of the drills to keep the skills sharp. It’ll be a long time before I get the 7,000-10,000 reps necessary to build it into muscle memory, but until then, I’ll just have to remember my training.