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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Combat Master Handgun Prep Course

By David "Jager" Burnell  

There are only around 50 Handgun Combat Masters in the world. Why are there so few? How do you get this elusive certification, and what does it mean?

Since my gunshot wound several years ago I had a decision to make... fold under pain, pressure, failure and self doubt of a negligent discharge... or come out fighting and dominate the very subject and environment that cost me full function of my left foot and ankle.

In response to this and beyond the physical rehab I have endured... I have attended firearms training programs at Front Sight in the Nevada Desert nine times since and done many many other gun related activities to come back not only in full activity, but to become the best I possibly can be. I want to be a top notch shooter, safe and be able to transfer this knowledge to friends and family with confidence and humility.

The culmination of much of this effort crystallized for me while attending the four day Handgun Combat Master Prep course. This course is designed to expose and eliminate each and every weakness you may have in your shooting. It accomplishes this by placing extreme time pressure on the individual while at the same time requiring perfect hits.

How do you become a Handgun Combat Master?

To qualify as a Handgun Combat Master you must start by scoring a minimum of 360 points out of a possible 400 on the evaluation drill listed below. The drill must be conducted by a current ASAA instructor, firearms and holster must be concealable "street" equipment (no optical sights, compensator, speed rigs, etc) and all ammunition must be full power with the .38 special the lowest power cartridge allowed. Shots are scored 5 points each for center hits, peripheral hits are 2 points for major calibers, 1 point for minor. The targets to be used are the front sight Combat Targets with a 5 point head zone of 4" x 3". All drills start with holstered gun, hands at sides. Times are by a shot clock on turning targets.

Before these tests begin on day one you take a basic line shooting drill. We lost one person out of the 13 that morning. They were not ready according to the instructors. You prepare in the morning of the first day to shoot the intermediate test. You must get a 70% to stay in the course. The times and drills are padded with more time than you will get in the Combat Masters Prep (CMP) test. I passed the intermediate but was stunned how fast we were shooting.

Day two you move to the advanced tactics. Again time frames are compressed as they add more of the drills that you will be required to perform during the CMP test. You prepare in the morning and test in the afternoon. I shot Distinguished Graduate (90% or better) on this one. I honestly do not know how because all I remember is a blaze of targets turning and most of the time could not tell if I hit anything because of the speed the targets turned.

At this point I was sincerely worried about the CMP test. The speed of the first two days was scary. I simply kept my head on one task at a time and sought to learn and change any and all shooting habits I had that would increase my speed and accuracy.

Interestingly enough our instructors were not CMP certified. That should tell you something about the challenge.

After the second day you test four times for the CMP certification. These tests are witnesses by a Combat Master. You can get the certification by successfully shooting the score on any one of these tests. One of the advantages of getting the DG on the advanced handgun is that now you can go directly to the CMP test and skip the first two days if you choose in subsequent trips. We had several folks join us the last two days for one or more of the CMP test cycles. Each test you shoot 80 rounds and the test takes about three hours.

Everyone else (12 people) made it through the remainder of the four days, but no one got the Combat Master (CM) certification. They say if you shoot a -200 your doing better than most. If you shoot a -100 or better you have the ability at any time to put it all together and achieve Combat Master.

My scores on the CMP test were as follows:
  • First test (Day three morning) -171
  • Second test (Day three afternoon) -169
  • Third test (Day four morning) -166
  • Fourth test (Day four afternoon) -114 (over 70%) BIG SMILE
70% in all other course at Front Sight is a certification. I will take these scores for my first go here. I would have liked to have broke 100, but there is always next time.

I was very happy with the final results and know what I need to do to improve and get a lower score. Often times they say folks fall apart under the pressure in later tests. I improved (Thank you Urban Warfare Center and Stress Training).

Standard Exercises 

Single target - 2 shots
Facing target 1 meter -
Facing target 1 meter -
Facing target 3 meters - 1.3 second Facing target 7 meters - 1.5 seconds

Facing target 10 meters Facing target 15 meters Facing target 25 meters Facing target 50 meters Presentation Evaluation - 1.8 seconds - 2.1 seconds - 2.7 seconds - 6.0 seconds

(Kneeling optional) (Prone optional)

Thoracic Cavity, each drill performed once. 1.0 second (Speed Rock)
1.3 second (Palm Strike Step Back)

Single target - 1 shot Thoracic Cavity, each drill performed five times @ 7 meters

Facing target - 1.2 second Response support side - 1.2 second Response firing side- 1.3 seconds Response rear - 1.4 seconds Multiple Targets

Targets at 5 meters and spaced 1 meter apart Two targets - 1.5 second Three targets - 1.8 seconds Four targets – 2.1 seconds

Head shots - Ocular Cavity at Close Range - 1 shot per drill

5 meters - 1.3 seconds - perform four times 7 meters - 1.5 seconds - perform five times

Ambidextrous Shooting - Time limit is 6 seconds for semi-auto, 8 seconds for revolvers.

3 targets at 7 meters and spaced 1 meter apart. Candidate loads three rounds and engages targets two handed, firing one round on each target, emergency reloads, then transfers weapon to support hand and re-engages the three targets firing one round per target.

Hostage Situation - Time limit 1.5 seconds.

Partial head shots - Target at 7 meters, one shot per drill performed 5 times with hostage taker to the left of the hostage head. Drill repeats 5 times for taker on the right side of the hostage head.

NOTE: A hit to the hostage is scored as an additional -5 as a penalty, so, a round that hits both the hostage and hostage taker receives the value of the hit on the hostage taker, and a -5 penalty for hitting the hostage. So, a hit to only the hostage with no injury to the hostage taker, is scored as -10 points (-5 points for missing the intended target and -5 points for hitting the hostage).

Target at Odd Angles - Time limit 1.5 seconds. - Targets at 7 meters and 60% obscured by cover, one shot per drill, perform 5 times with target to the left side of cover and 5 times to the right side of cover.

You can only have a -40 to get the 90% required

Malfunction and weapon handling drills are done improperly performed or performed over the time your shooting score.
  • Tactical Reload - 3.0 seconds
  • Emergency Reload - 1.8 seconds
  • Type 1 malfunction (Empty Chamber) - 1.0 
  • Second Type 2 malfunction (Brass high) - 1.2 seconds
  • Type 3 malfunction (Double feed) - 4.0 seconds 
For me this was like going to the gunfighter academy. Most of the folks had been here dozens of times. Some had been here 40 times... yes 40. These were all men on this course and most of them were about 50-60 years old. They were FAST and ACCURATE. While no one in my course achieved the Combat Master Certificate they were something special to watch. The speeds listed above are for most people absolutely impossible. It takes years of constant training and a sincere willingness to unlearn old habits to do well in this course. The old habits may be very effective for some styles of shooting, but when we are talking one second from the holster to the eye box... there is absolutely no room for inefficiency.

I brought home many jewels from this training and a new respect for what I must do to get this elusive certification. I am training live fire one to three times a week and dry practice daily.

Here are a few of the key points to increase speed and accuracy:
  • Move nothing but your hands when presenting your weapon. This means knees, head or anything else that moves. This will shave about .02 seconds off your time.
  • Drive your support hand HIGH into the chest so that you will bring your sights up into your eyes. Most people drive to the belly... go high.
  • When on the line do not anticipate. you are faster if you relax. Perhaps the hardest for most people. Think ONLY of driving the support had high into the chest.. forget about the firing hand... it will go and do its job on count 1-3.
  • Most of your speed is in count 1-3. When you get to count 4 and 5 HIGH into the chest, push the weapon into your face a little slower to acquire your sights.
  • Take out any trigger slack beginning at count 3 and when your arms are fully extended (count 5) you should get the surprise trigger break.
  • Sight alignment is the MOST important one of the three secrets. More important than Sight picture and trigger control. If your sights are aligning correctly you WILL get the hit. Sight alignment includes HARD FOCUS on the FRONT SIGHT.
  • The TOP BLADE of the front sight is the only part of the front sight that works correctly. If you have dots... use a black marker to darken them.. Trust me.. this works. You can use a cotton and wipe the sights after darkening and they will still work at night.
  • Do not worry about your hits. This will cause you to loose your front sight post. You WILL get the hit if you are on the front sight.
  • Do NOT tally your score... shoot your best and reserve any and all energy for the speed and accuracy of your next set.
  • Overcome failure. You will get misses... collapsing mentally only increases your likely hood of more misses. MOST of this test is a mental game once you get scores around -100. Those that keep a cool head and do not tally scores are the ONLY ones who have passed this test according to some Combat Masters. AGAIN... one set at a time and forget about the last set... you can do nothing to change the results but you CAN effect your next set by doing things correctly.
FINAL NOTE: RELAX on the line. Again do not anticipate. SLOW is SMOOTH and SMOOTH really is FASTER. This is why my score went from a 171 to a 114. I did these things above better as I adapted under greater fatigue (Day Four) and perceived pressure (Last Qualification Round).

David Burnell
Founder and CEO