Close Quarters Tactics (CQT) with Randy Cain

This past weekend I joined thirteen others in taking a Close Quarters Tactics class at Southern Exposure Training in Lakeland with Randy Cain.

The class has two major focuses (foci?):

  1. Some hand to hand techniques to retain your firearm or disarm an opponent.
  2. Incorporating the hand to hand techniques into the overall firearm system.

Training Days

Each training day began and ended with live fire shooting with the hand to hand techniques taking the balance (and bulk) of the time. (The amount of shooting will depend on the level of the class. Classes with better shooters will tend to shoot more as Randy doesn’t have to spend as much time correcting errors.) The first day’s morning shooting was primarily a review of Randy’s Tactical Handgun 101* and Randy made adjustments to individual shooters as needed. As the days progressed we incorporated some of the hand to hand techniques into the shooting. Randy explained how things we learned in TH101 were now made important in light of the CQT techniques–in particular, step 2 of the draw stroke (retention). Randy stressed that hand to hand techniques must not only be effective but must fit into the overall system.

*TH101 or a similar class from someone Randy respects is a prerequisite for the CQT course.

The major hand to hand skills taught in the class include:

  1. Basic movement and positioning
  2. Buying time to draw a gun against a basic knife attack (not against a skilled knife fighter)
  3. Preventing someone from taking your gun out of the holster.
  4. Preventing someone who has a grip on your gun from taking it.
  5. Taking a gun from someone else.
  6. Preventing a gang banger from drawing on you.
  7. What to do when you run empty at CQT distance.
  8. Randy also demonstrates how these same techniques can be applied to long guns.
  9. Some “parlor tricks” (You’ll think twice about using Sul once you see how easy it is to disarm.)

You don’t need to have any martial arts training to be able to learn the techniques, although it would certainly be helpful. The techniques are very forgiving and will often work even if you don’t execute them quite right. The class is somewhat demanding physically, and everyone broke a sweat despite the perfect 70 degree weather. Expect to get a little banged up (you’ll be slamming your shoulder into someone’s arm A LOT), however, you do train at your own level, and if you follow Randy’s instructions and advice, you won’t get hurt. If you’re sedentary, I’d recommend being able to walk at least a mile without getting winded to get more out of the class.

Randy is a both a very patient and demanding instructor. He’ll take the time to help individual students fix shooting problems even though that’s not the focus of this class. Once he knows your level, he’ll push you to continue to improve.

Before you come to the class, I’d also recommend de-horning your practice (blue) gun. Take the sights off, round the sharp edges (including safety, slide lock, take down lever, hammer, and beavertail).

It was a fabulous class, incredibly eye opening, and highly recommended.

Louis Awerbuck’s Shotgun Class

I just got back from taking Louis Awerbuck’s Tactical Shotgun I class. My only previous experience with the Shotgun is Randy Cain’s Shotgun I class (see my write up here) about two years ago, and a few trap shooting outings with friends.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Louis Awerbuck, he served in the South African Defence Force and has been training firearms for over thirty years. Randy considers him the best in the business, so naturally, I came into this class with big expectations.

Day 1

angle-targets_med.jpgThe course started out with a three hour briefing on safety, range etiquette, and all manner of information about the shotgun, everything from desirable features on a shotgun, idiosyncrasies of various models of shotgun, and ammunition selection to the mechanics of loading and unloading the weapon and the most common reasons for malfunctions. Before the briefing, Louis warned us that he talks more than anyone in the business and shoots less.

Louis is a bit of a character with a wry sense of humor and self deprecatingly refers to his “magnetic personality.” He is soft spoken and despite repeated admonitions of how much a jerk he is, we never witnessed it during our three days. His style is very low key, and he is very patient helping students to improve.

After lunch, we headed out to the range to pattern the shotguns with buckshot. I was using some really cheap buckshot that had an enormous pattern. After the second shot at seven yards, my pattern was about seven inches across. Other targets were had two inch patterns. He used my target to show just how much ammunition selection can affect the pattern. A second shot at seven yards with Federal Tactical 00 buck showed a 3 inch group, “Fastest barrel job you’ve ever seen. I just saved you several hundred dollars.”

After patterning the guns, we moved over to steel targets and ran a variety of drills including the ever popular Rolling Thunder.

Day 2

We started with some warm up drills on the steel and then did several variations of Rolling Thunder that involved a very small amount of teamwork and communication. Then we zeroed the shotguns on paper at 25 yards. Somewhere during this time, the class started dragging because people weren’t listening or paying attention. At this point, Louis really let the class have it, “Gentleman, I can’t run an unsafe range.”

After lunch, whatever had infected the group seemed to be gone, and we did a variety of slug drills and select slug before getting rained out.

Day 3

3d-targets_med.jpgAgain, we started with shot on the steel, only this time, it was complicated by having paper targets in front of and behind the steel. We were not allowed to hit the paper targets, forcing us to think about foreground and background, the size of our pattern, and how changing angles changes the target availability. Louis stressed that often, the best choice is not to take the shot.

Then we moved to Louis’ special moving rig target. We had to shoot an erratically moving bad guy with a bystander just behind him. Then we repeated the drill with a partner and three innocent bystanders.

Then we set aside the shotguns for handguns. Louis had set up targets at various angles to stress that the position of the target changes what constitutes a good hit. Four inches low on an upright straight on torso might still be a good hit. Four inches low on a torso at 45 degrees might be a miss altogether. Moreover, the targets were bowed outward to simulate a three dimensional person, stressing that the breastbone isn’t always center mass. This drill also had a second purpose. If we could not shoot handgun groups tight enough, we would not be allowed to actually fire the handguns on the next drill—handgun transitions.

target-system_med.jpgFirst we learned how to dump the shotgun safely in order to draw the handgun. Then we went through the transition drills without shooting, then again with shooting. As a team, we had to hit every steel plate with buckshot from ten yards without hitting paper, then transition to handgun and hit every paper target without hitting any steel. Then we repeated the drill with select slug instead of transitioning to handgun.

Finally, we did long distance slug shooting at 50 and 75 yards on a steel target.


If I had to sum up the class in two words, it would be “Rule Four”. Being sure of your target was really the focus of the whole class. Louis’ class is very cerebral, with a lot of judgment calls about angles and thinking about what’s behind the target. Know your shotgun’s pattern at this distance and know whether you can safely make the shot.

The class had a relatively low round count, around 200 shot, and maybe 30 slugs. I don’t think I would recommend it for someone’s first shotgun class, not because of the low round count, but because the barrage of information can be overwhelming if you are completely unfamiliar with the shotgun and its concepts. Also Louis sometimes would say, “here’s the right way to do it” and then expected us to be able to do it without much practice. I think Randy’s class would be a better choice for a complete shotgun newbie because you just get more repetitions, and Randy goes slower on the initial skills. (On the other hand the lower round count is much easier on the shoulder). Either way, I do not think any shotgun student could call their education complete without taking Louis Awerbuck’s class. Randy Cain says that Louis Awerbuck is the best in the business, and I can understand why.

Thoughts about shotgun selection

Randy Cain is very clear that he prefers the Remington 870, and everything else is inferior. Louis Awerbuck seems much more appreciative of other shotguns, although most of the problems in our class stemmed from the autoloaders (as Randy predicted). The few Remington 870 issues we had stemmed from aftermarket parts. I set my 870 up according to Randy’s recommendations, and it ran like a champ. I had no problems. One thing I learned from listening to Louis’ comments to other students is that the Mossberg’s main advantage is its safety. (It’s on top, so you can turn it on or off without breaking a firing grip (including lefties).) However, if you put a pistol grip on a Mossberg, then it completely negates that advantage, because you can’t access the safety unless you break the firing grip.

Thoughts about the range

This is the fourth class I have taken at Southern Exposure Training. I can see a definite pattern. The classes are a mixture of law enforcement/law enforcement, security personnel, and regular folks with a large amount of repeat customers. Most have trained at other facilities and with other instructors, but keep coming back to Southern Exposure because of the high quality of instructors that Irv Lehman brings in combined with the relaxed but professional atmosphere. In every class that I have taken, at least one student has traveled from out of state to train there. I will be definitely be back.

Basic Gunhandling – Loading and Unloading

Here are some basic techniques for loading and unloading a gun. While you practice these, you will want to practice the four laws of gun safety, particularly focusing on 2 and 3: 2) Never let the muzzle cover anything you don’t want to destroy (including your own body parts); 3) keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.

You’ll also want to obtain some snap caps (fake bullet cartridges) to make you practice session safer.

Gun Safety – Keep your finger off the trigger

A few days ago, I posted a story about a shotgun that seemed to be unloaded when it actually was loaded. Today, I’d like to talk about a different kind of safety violation—the one ultimately responsible for probably the majority of all gun accidents: putting your finger on the trigger. But a movie is worth 10,000 words, so watch the videos, and then we’ll talk.

So to reiterate, Jeff Cooper’s four laws of gun safety:

  1. All guns are always loaded
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you don’t want to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target [and you are ready to shoot].
  4. Always be sure of your target.

Jeff Cooper is reported to have said that the 3rd law alone could probably prevent something like two thirds gun accidents. Of course putting one’s finger on the trigger is the first thing most gun newbies (and even oldbies) do. Remember when Vice President Dick Cheney shot a hunting partner by accident? Finger on the trigger. The guy in the second video? Finger on the trigger when he fell? The guy in the third video? Violations of rules 1, 2, and 3. (And the next time you think only cops should have guns, remember that he was the only guy in the room professional enough to carry a Glock 40.)

People who have been using guns for years often put their finger on the trigger when inappropriate, even so-called professionals. Why? Well, ignorance and bad role models most likely. But even if you have the bad guy in your sights, your finger should still be off the trigger unless you want to shoot. We’ll discuss why in a moment. But it’s not enough to simply not put your finger on the trigger; you shouldn’t even have it in the trigger guard. Your finger should be straight and placed on the frame of the gun above the trigger guard.

Bad Role Models

thumb_24s7-jack.jpgHollywood is replete with bad examples. Pick almost any movie where characters use a gun, and you’re likely to find people with their finger on the trigger. It seems that the generic bad guys tend to have better finger discipline than the stars. Take Jack Bauer of 24 for example. For the first five seasons, he consistently has his finger on the trigger.

Jack-Bauer-24-36841_1024_768_thumb.jpgFinally somewhere between season six and seven, he gained a small amount of finger discipline—at least on the poster—but in the actual show, his trigger finger discipline seems to disappear. Contrast that with the character of Samantha Carter in Stargate SG-1, and you’ll find that her trigger finger discipline is always impeccable. Still the bad examples outweigh the good ones ten to one (at least).

And you’re ready to shoot…

Generally speaking, Randy Cain doesn’t like it when people try to rearrange or edit the Four laws, but for rule three, he most certainly expounds the “and you’re ready to shoot addendum.” Go watch the first video again. The female policeman…person…officer had her sights on the target, but she most assuredly did not want to shoot. The problem is that our hands are made so that our fingers work together. Try this exercise. Hold your hand out straight. Now keep your pointer (trigger finger) straight while you curl your other three finger inward (like you’re holding a gun). I bet you can’t do it. There is a fancy name for it that escapes me at the moment (something like sympathetic grasp reflex), but the bottom line is, when you are in a stressful situation, adrenaline pumping, and you’re holding on to that gun for dear life, the stronger your grip, the more likely you are to accidentally pull the trigger due to the sympathetic grasp.

So the take home message is, don’t put your finger on the trigger unless you intend to actually shoot.

Gun Safety–A Story

I just saw this story on

11-25-09: Rule One: Handle all firearms as if they were loaded. This Just Happened. We had a lady bring in an old 12 gauge Winchester 1300 shotgun for trade. Travis and I both check it, cycled the action. When I looked down into the action, I didn’t see any shells in there… the action was cycled probably 20 times. It was filthy, gritty, and foul… it felt like it was full of sand and on top of that it felt too tight. Travis hit it with some gun oil and cycled it a couple more times. Then Marcus cycled it. And then all the sudden – Ker-Chunk! A Live Shell popped onto the shell lifter and there it was. A live round in the gun. What happened evidently was that because the gun was so old and so completely filthy, the feed mechanism was bound up. After a shot of some spray in oil and some working, it became unbound and was then able to feed that unseen shell. This was pretty scary, because there was the hidden potential for an accident. However because everyone followed the 4 Rules, that accident didn’t happen. But it could have had we let our guard down. Because we had all thought the gun was unloaded… here we are looking forward to getting off work early… looking forward to the holiday, getting a little lax… but because we practiced the 4 Rules we avoided what could have been a disaster. A gun shop in Colorado not too long ago had an employee working on a gun… shot and killed another employee… it can happen. Firearms are like poisonous snakes… you can handle them safely, but the moment you disrespect them – they can bite you.

Follow the Rules. Always.

For those not in the know, the four rules—or laws— of guns safety were devised by Colonel Jeff Cooper who, if not invented, developed and popularized the modern technique of the pistol. They are:

  1. All guns are always loaded
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you don’t want to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target [and you are ready to shoot].
  4. Always be sure of your target.

As Randy Cain says, you can break one rule and be okay, but if you break two rules it’s going to end in pain. Although it’s rule 3, Jeff Cooper is reported to have acknowledged that keeping one’s finger off the trigger would prevent most gun accidents. If you watch TV you’ll see rule 3 violations all over the place—and Jack Bauer is one of the worst offenders.

Update: Repeatedly running the slide (as described in the story) is not correct way to check if a pump-action shotgun is unloaded. The correct way is to check the chamber (visually and tactilely) and to check the magazine tube for the presence of the follower. So apparently, in the story above, despite working at a gun shop, they didn’t know how (or didn’t care) to correctly check if the gun is unloaded. And as several of my friends have pointed out the first rule is “All guns are always loaded!” not “Treat all guns as if they were loaded” as maintained in the quoted excerpt.