Charlie said, “What happened?”I said, “I killed him.”Charlie said, “No you didn’t. You barely caught him at the bottom of his chin. Shoot him again.”This was not your average, everyday kind of conversation, especially since Charlie was Charles Derrick, Chief of Police of Brady, Texas. We were talking about a bad guy who was holding a hostage about ten feet in front of me. The bad guy was standing behind the hostage, and all I could see was his head, which was where Charlie wanted me to shoot him.Fortunately for the hostage, neither he nor the bad guy was real. Both were steel plate targets on the range at Delta Red, a new firearms training facility near San Saba, Texas, where Charlie is an instructor. I had shot low, and just dinged the lower edge of the target. Charlie was unimpressed, even though, from my point of view, that should have been a killing shot.So I raised my pistol and managed to pop the perp’s head near the center, and the target swung around to the other side of the hostage. I hadn’t known it would do that. Charlie said, “See there, now you got him.”My son, Leret, and I were at Delta Red last Saturday, along with some other media types, to check out the new facility and take their basic defensive handgun class, which is pretty much just like basic instruction in computers, or basket weaving, or anything else, only a lot louder. Leret had never had any shooting instruction from anyone but me before, which is kind of like saying he’d learned his sailing skills from Lance Armstrong. I figured it wouldn’t hurt for him to get some training from people who really know what they’re talking about.Owners Bob and Lana Rich are some of the nicest, friendliest folks I’ve ever met, sort of a stereotypical grandparently couple. Just looking at them you’d probably never guess that both are certified NRA rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructors, besides having been trained at Clint Smith’s Thunder Ranch, among other places. The two of them have probably forgot more about shooting than I’ll ever know.Our instructors started the defensive handgun class with basic instruction about types of guns, and the obligatory safety rules, beginning with Jeff Cooper’s Big Four. Most of the morning was spent in class, including a short session of watching videos of people doing really stupid things with guns. The main message there was ‘be careful, because you can’t unshoot somebody.’ Good advice.We finally got out to the range and started the fun stuff, actually shooting at silhouette targets. Which is where I became aware that all the instructors were far more aware of where my thumbs were at any given time than I was. And they were seldom satisfied about it.The most important factor in shooting a pistol well is the grip. I got the impression the instructors were far more concerned with my grip than whether I had ammo in my gun. And the transgression I committed far more often than any other was holding my thumbs too low. Every couple of minutes, on average, I heard, “Look at your thumbs.” It got so I was pretty sick of looking at my thumbs.But they were right, of course. Jerry Gordon, who used to be the game warden in Mason County, is one of the instructors at Delta Red, and he pointed out that when I put my thumbs where they belonged I hit where I wanted. It’s hard to argue with holes in a target. They’re either where they belong or they’re not. Mine often weren’t.Leret, on the other hand, seemed to have a lot less trouble keeping his thumbs where they belonged. And his holes stayed pretty much where they were supposed to. After a while the instructors started ribbing me about it. I told Leret if he kept shooting better than me he might have to walk home, but I don’t think he believed me.Instructor John Rich seemed to take great delight in pointing out my recalcitrant thumbs, but instructor Greg McGregor, a retired colonel, seemed to get a kick out of it. They knew I was trying, and they were there to help me shoot better, which they did. Of course, that’s not really saying a whole lot. I’m not the greatest pistoleer in the world.The most fun, I think, were the drills instructor Mike McClung put us through, where we shot around barriers at round steel plate targets, about ten inches across, that were set up in a line at ten, twenty, thirty, and forty yards. We had to step from cover when he told us which two targets to shoot, and try to hit them. Or we had to shoot all four, one at a time. Or we had to shoot the first one, go to it and use it for cover, and shoot the second one, all the way down the line.There is probably not a more enjoyable way to spend a day than shooting, and when you get to do it with people who are friendly, personable, outstanding teachers, you end up learning more than you realize. I plan to go back and take some of their advanced classes, if I can convince them I can keep my thumbs where they belong.And if Leret will promise not to outshoot me, I might let him go along . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who carries a gun because a cop is too heavy. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org