Sit-rep by Clint Smith from July-August 2005 American Handgunner Magazine

Posted for noncommercial and informational use only. – sd

Knowledge, especially knowledge learned first-hand by practical experience–not book reading–is like a new pair of shoes. If new shoes sit in the box and you don’t wear them they really aren’t worth much. The shoes need to be taken out and worn to get any value out of them. So it goes with knowledge. There is a saying that when a door closes, another door opens. Such is the case for me recently.

After eleven years of work I took a perfectly good business in Texas, shut it off like a light switch, moved it 2,000 miles and plugged it in again. To state I was sure the light would come on again after being dragged most of way across the United States would be arrogant at best. And just so you know, I wasn’t sure if it would click back on again.

What I learned after eleven years–key word “learned”–not “speculated” or “guessed” or “thought” might actually be of some interest to some of you. Or at least, “His Editorship” thought as much. So what do I base these impression upon? How about 500-plus firearm and tactical classes, having a nominal 12,000 students, ranging from the likes of “Wanda-the-redheaded-mother-of-two” from Detroit, to Special Operations personnel from all branches of our military services.



The most prolific handguns were 1911s of all makes, with (alphabetically listed) Boer, ,Colt, ,, Springfield and Wilson’s most prevalent. The less they were messed-with (gunsmithed?) the better they worked. Single stack guns ruled. Glocks were present in equal numbers, with the two mentioned types representing 90-percent or more of all the handguns showing up at school. The only Glocks that burped were ones–you guessed it–that had been messed-with. Buy the Glock, take it out of the box and shoot the darn thing, please!


Colt ARs without question were the most prolific and worked the best. In the later years of the school the Rock Rivers and Beers started to show up and were excellent performers.


Remington 700s hands-down, even though their internal magazines are always a pain. The .308 was the most popular large rifle caliber by far end performed well at all reasonable ranges.


Leupold scopes ruled. In this area, the only shortcoming was in mounts and bases. Many scopes ran out of dope adjustment at a nominal 600 yards on average.


Remington 870s end Benellis were about equal in attendance. The Benellis were sensitive to light loads but that is to be expected us they are probably not truly designed for that type of ammunition.

Best Holsters

Sparks dominated the holster arena, with a strong second place going to Mitch & Nancy Rosen’s gear. Leather holsters definitely ruled, but there was a strong showing of plastic (Kydex and the like) over the last few years.

Worst Holsters

Nylon holsters were by far the worse, but in fairness improved over the tenure of the school especially in the law enforcement equipment area.

Dangerous Gear

Without reservation the cross body tactical sling was the most dangerous piece of equipment in any class, and was the cause for the greatest range staff concern in the area of gun handling and muzzle control. Of six unauthorized rifle discharges, five involved tactical slings. It is my personal belief that the range of motion for the rifle while “hanging” can allow the safety to be “brushed” off. With arm movement, the trigger can be “engaged” by all or part of the web gear, pouches, mag carriers and other widget-gear. Bang.

Muzzle breaks were another real jab in the eye. They were audibly rude, distracting, threw debris and were an all around pain. I saw no redeeming value in marksmanship because of their presence. If a student shot well, they shot well regardless of any gimmick-gear hung on the muzzle.

Other Dangerous Things

Another easy one: Reloads, usually claimed by the student to have been loaded by a “friend.”

Off-range firearms incidents/accidents/negligent, you pick it.

We had exactly three in 11 years. Two in the cabins on-site and one in a motel in town. ALL were “advanced” students handling guns that should have been left alone at the times they were set off.

There were more car/deer accidents traveling the roads to and from school than there were firearms accidents, or about five-to-one minimum. It was safer to be in class than it was to drive to town.

We had one medivac in 11 years. A seizure from dehydration.

Did We All Learn?

You can’t make everybody happy all the time, but some people seemed to enjoy the training. I would offer as an example class number 300, an advanced level handgun class. The class had 23 students who, in aggregate, had been to this school over 200 times. I doubt that many people would return that many times had they not been getting something out of the training.

As a final offering, I can only state proudly there were exactly NO firearms-related injuries in 11 years and 12,000 students in 500 classes. To that safety issue I thank the Death-Cheaters–the Staff.

By the way, just in case you might be wondering, the lights came back on just fine, this time in Oregon!

Editor’s Note: I asked Clint to sum-up what he’s learned about equipment during his many years as director of Thunder Ranch.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Publishers’ Development Corporation
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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