Critical Defensive Handgun Course Review

By on December 28, 2017

Bob Mayne and Ben Branam on the Range

Bob and I before Day 1

This course is done by Paul Carlson of Safety Solutions Academy.  Paul is unusual in the training community because he isn’t a big-name competitor, Navy SEAL, former military, or law enforcement, but a teacher by education and trade.  His competition time was good, he just never became a big name and decided to go the other way with his firearms life.  He started teaching firearms on the side and then went full in on the self defense side.  He writes for a bunch of different publications and gets a lot of training classes because of that and has put himself through a bunch of other classes including going to every instructor course he could find.  As an instructor, he is marvelous.

I hosted Paul last year here in San Antonio and he let me take the class.  I had a blast.  For me, that’s one of the first things I need.  To have fun.  The class is two days, 800 to 1,000 rounds, and a lot of work.  Most classes have a high cost in time, ammo, and money.  All three I always seem to be shorter on than I’d like, so my training time is valuable, and I take it seriously.  Yes I get offered a couple free courses a year as a podcaster and writer, but have time and money for very few (yes, even a free course costs me lots of money).  But I took the time to take this course and host it because Paul is worth it.  He will make you a better trigger puller and better at defending yourself and your loved ones.

The weekend started, as it should, with safety.  Pretty easy to tell if a course sucks – if you don’t get a safety brief up front, the course sucks and you should probably ask for a refund and leave.  If you can’t tell, this is pretty important.  I’ve shot with some of the top operators in the world, every single one gave me a safety briefing before we started.  Even one of my best friends, when I worked with him, we went to the range to train together and one of us was responsible and gave a safety brief.  It’s easy, every class should start this way.

Paul uses some different safety rules then the typical 4 Gun Safety Rules we’ve all been passed down from Jeff Cooper.  Cooper’s were easy to memorize and could be used as a check list for law enforcement and military.  You bet I still have them memorized from over 20 years ago when I had to learn them for law enforcement and then the Marine Corps (I hear them in my sleep almost as a nightmare and my brain wants to shout them on the paper right now).  I won’t hash those here, but put Paul’s up for review:

1 – Keep your finger someplace other than the trigger until you are ready to shoot;

2 – Keep your firearm pointed in a relatively safe direction whenever possible;

3 – Remember, you are in control of a deadly weapon.  If you use it with malice or negligence, you could hurt or kill yourself or someone else.

The first almost matches Cooper’s third rule and is close enough no one would argue.  But as a police officer, I was taught to keep my finger off the trigger until my sights are on target.  Then, in another block (completely away from safety) was to only put your sights on target when you are ready to shoot.  Since the rules don’t go together, it’s an issue.  I love the finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.  As we advance, you may not be able to see your sights but you still intend to fire the weapon.  Law enforcement trains to break their own rules and that gets confusing.

Paul Carlson at Critical Defensive Handgun

Paul Giving a Lecture about Reaction Time

Number 2 I like better than Cooper’s rule and have started changing my course safety briefs.  Cooper’s “Don’t point the firearm at anything you don’t intend to shoot” is broken all the time.  We point the gun at things all the time we aren’t going to shoot: the ground, people we aren’t sure need to be shot yet (especially cops), the sky, our safe at home, when we dry practice . . . and the list goes on.  So the rule was made to be broken?  Point the firearm in a relatively safe direction whenever possible – that’s pretty straight forward when you think about it.  And I’ve added in my classes as always point the firearm in the safest direction possible.  That may include at the bad guy in the real world.

The third is a reminder of the awesome responsibility you have whenever you handle a firearm.  We should all head that warning all the time.

After the safety brief, we got into the course and started with arming everyone and then talking about the basics.  It’s always funny to me how antsy everyone gets about putting their guns and gear on for the class. It’s like people can’t relax until they have their gun and gear on for the class they are going to use.  This class was no different, and you could feel a sigh of relief once everyone was armed up.

Then we started with the basics of shooting.  Starting with the grip.  He showed us the best grip, thumbs forward, and how to put as much hand on the gun as possible, but then answered the pressure question very simply.  Grip it as hard as you can with both hands.  That comes from the study of people during attacks and shows most people will hold onto the tool that can save their lives as hard as possible and then extend that tool out at the threat as far as possible.  So Paul teaches locked elbows and wrists, isosceles stance, with the gun pushed all the way out.  He continues with the stance from the thought that you will have a startle response before you can counter attack in the real world.  So everything starts with feet, hips, shoulders, and head towards the threat (target) and hands up to cover face and chest.

After that, we went through the draw step by step, and his is easy: Get as good a grip on the gun as you can with your primary hand, draw the gun straight up as high as you can, rotate the gun towards your target, and press it out with both hands as far as it will go.  Pretty simple and very easy to learn.

Trigger press was simply a touch and a press straight through without stopping.  This is something I need to get better at to shoot faster.  I always want to take all the slack out, or stage a double action trigger, then double check my sight alignment, then shoot.  It’s almost three different thoughts that makes me slower, and I don’t think it’s making me anymore accurate, so I worked on it all weekend.  And that’s where we began shooting.  Just a draw by the numbers, then extend, touch, press.  It’s a drill we can work on anywhere and should be a staple in your dry and live fire practice.

We shot for a while and Paul went through different thoughts on what would happen when someone attacked you.  What your mind will do, and then started asking us to visualize what happens.  From the weapon the bad guy might have, the look, dress, skin color, age, and sex should change every time you visualize your attack.  And you should be visualizing an attack every time you practice along with a visualization of how the attack will end.  He encourages the way it ends to change also: the bad guy drops the weapon and says stop, runs away, or falls.  Just keep changing it all every time.  And Paul will tell you before the drill is called, visualize what the person is wearing, who they are, height, weight, color, hair color, sex, age, and what they are doing.  Then visualize what would make you stop shooting them.  He doesn’t ever give a round count just encourages you to change the number of rounds you fire every time.

Paul’s thoughts on use of sights was enough reason you should take this class.  How many times have you been told just to put the front sight in the groove and then press the trigger, but somehow it was really confusing and wasn’t ever that simple.

Bob Mayne Shooting

Bob Mayne Shooting a Line Drill


He goes up to a target and then writes how to use your sights on the target, in 8 bullet points.  First you have to recognize that you need to use your sights.  Really?  Yes.  We had been firing all morning without any thoughts on the sights, and I am a big supporter of point shooting, it’s what I do up close.  But that’s a simple genius in the fact that it’s okay to recognize you need to use your sights.

Then there is how much sight picture you need for the given situation and then closing one eye.  I fought this for years and can even shoot precision rifle with both eyes open through a high powered scope.  When I go to a spotting scope and really need to look at something way out there, I close one eye.  I’ve had rifle and pistol coaches tell me this for years and I ignored them all because I want the situational awareness, and have spent years training myself to do it.

Here’s a simple exercise, put your thumb out at arm’s length as your front sight on your gun.  With both eyes open, look past your thumb at something in the distance, say 15 to 25 yards out.  With both eyes open, you will see two thumbs until you do a hard focus on that thumb.  Then your thumb will become one (if you have trained both eyes open) and you could use your thumb as a sight.  If you focus past your thumb to your target that thumb blurs and becomes two – it’s your two eyes.  Now do the same thing with only your shooting eye open.  Even when you focus out to the target or something in the distance, your thumb becomes a little blurry, but there is only one there.  And this is a way to solve an eye dominance “problem.”  If you close one eye, your open eye becomes your dominate eye no matter what.  Now I’m working on retraining my brain on this both eyes open thing.  It will take a while and I’ll have to do a follow up to see if it works better or worse.  To get the rest, you’ll have to take the class.

As the class progresses it gets more and more complicated.  Paul uses two different targets with two different sides on them.  They look the same, except when you look at the numbers, letters, and colors.  They change just a little bit.  Paul simply calls different numbers, shapes, and colors to shoot.  And then since the person next to you probably has a different target or side, you won’t be shooting the same thing as the people around you.

Safety Solutions Academy Targets

Safety Solutions Academy Targets

After you start to master that, then there are lines to run.  It’s really tiring but makes you work on your awareness skills.  You are running up and down the range from cone to cone and he’ll randomly yell out different targets to shoot.  Part of your responsibility as the shooter is to make sure there is no one in front of your muzzle before you fire.  That’s a pretty awesome responsibility but you better do it in the real world.  It was fun and tiring, challenging, and humbling.  You think you are good, until you start running lines with Paul.  He groups people by abilities to keep it challenging for everyone.

By the end of the second day, you get to run the figure 8.  Multiple targets all different and just walk around the figure 8 until Paul calls something to shoot.  Then you have to move and draw, and shoot all the things that fall into the category he called.  Which means search all the targets while moving around the range with your gun in hand and then shoot the appropriate things.  If you shoot something wrong or fail to shoot something and put your gun away when you think you are done, then you get to explain to the class why you didn’t shoot something or did shoot something you should not have.  And Paul will call things ambiguously enough that you will miss something or shoot something you should not have.  Then you get to explain your thinking.  It’s a great drill and one everyone should do but only under the watchful eyes of a professional instructor.  It can easily run away from you and then safety goes out the window.  I know it seems so simple, but there is a lot going into what Paul is calling when to make the drill safe for the shooter and everyone else on the range.

In the end, this class is well worth your time, money, and ammo.  You’ll learn something no matter how advanced you are (I’ve been studying this stuff for 20 years now and still learned something).

During the class I used a Glock 19 Gen 5 for the first day and put about 360 rounds down range.  The second day I used a Smith & Wesson M&P 9 Compact and shot almost 400 rounds through it.  Yes, I shot extra on every drill on purpose to test the two guns.  But they both worked great, and I found out the Glock Gen 5 isn’t for me.  I’ll stick to a Gen 4 if I need a Glock, but loved the new Smith Compact.

At the end of the two days, my hands where tired from gripping the gun so much.  So in the gym I’ve been working on improving my grip strength to make it easier next time.

Paul will be in San Antonio again in 2018 and he runs classes all over, but especially at his home range in Ohio.  Check out his Critical Defensive Handgun Schedule here.

Stay Safe,



P.S.  Paul does a podcast, SSA Podcast.  If you aren’t listening, you should be.

Me Running the Figure 8 Drill Video

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