I’ve been around. Been a big game hunter since high school. Worked as an outdoor writer specializing in hunting and related gear full-time since 1978. Hunted five continents, and even lived in Alaska for 15 years, where for a short time I also held an assistant hunting guide’s license. For the past 20-some years I’ve averaged more than 100 days afield each year.
So when Mossberg’s Linda Powell, a good friend of two decades and a very experienced hunter in her own right, invited me to a three-day “Hunter Prep Course” at Arizona’s famed Gunsite, I hit the pause button. Hunter Prep? What can they teach me?
A little background. Gunsite was founded in 1976 by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, author, professor, WWII and Korean War combat veteran and a legend in the shooting sports. Back in the 1980s I had the pleasure of meeting Col. Cooper on a couple of occasions, and he was always a gentleman. His vision intended Gunsite to be the vehicle for spreading the Modern Technique of the Pistol, which he created during his years in Big Bear Lake, California.
Col. Cooper, who passed away in 2006, built Gunsite — known back then as the American Pistol Institute (API) — just west of Paulden, Arizona, in the high Sonoran desert a two hour’s drive north of Phoenix, on 210 acres. Today Gunsite encompasses some 4.5 square miles and features a wide array of modern facilities, classrooms, a fully stocked pro shop and a full-service gunsmith operation. There are a variety of different ranges purpose-built for specific class offerings, including outdoor and indoor simulators, a 400-yard KD rifle range, an unknown distance range and various steel ranges for specific purposes. Most of the target arrays move, turn, run, pop up or appear and disappear.
The Hunter Prep Class is offered as a tutorial. Clients set the dates and tell the staff what they want to accomplish, and the instructors build off that. An example is those clients heading to Africa to hunt dangerous game for the first time. Instructors build the class on that, teaching you how to make the shot and more. It gives you a chance to practice your skills under actual field conditions and is designed specifically to strengthen rifle skills for hunting applications. Over three days we shot literally hundreds of rounds from our Mossberg Patriot rifles. (Tip: don’t use a .300 Win. Mag. as I did without bringing along a strap-on recoil pad. Just sayin’.) We shot everything from close-range, off-hand paper targets to steel silhouette targets at distances up to about 300 yards, with everything designed to simulate actual field conditions.
While the Gunsite facility is in and of itself incredible, the most impressive thing to me were the instructors. All you have to do is look at the list on their website and it will impress. Then, when you meet and work with these professionals, the level of respect goes up in a hurry. We were fortunate to have Mario Marchman and Il Ling New train us. Mario retired as a sergeant after 30 years with the Glendale, California, police department, where he did everything from vice narcotics to special enforcement, gangs and SWAT. He has been an adjunct instructor at Gunsite since 1990 and teaches pistol, rifle, carbine and shotgun. Mario is an avid rifleman and hunter with tons of North American and African safari experience. Il Ling grew up hunting and fishing, and started guiding for her father’s outfitting service as a teenager, receiving her first guide’s license at age 17. Later, she became the first female captain of her university’s shooting team. Il Ling is a professional guide in the U.S., as well a National Sporting Clays Association instructor. Outside the States, Il Ling has hunted in the UK, Asia, Australia and Africa. At Gunsite, she teaches defensive handgun, rifle and shotgun courses, as well as hunting rifle and wingshooting. She’s even taken a cape buffalo with a handgun in Mozambique.
Having these two as instructors was like having Peyton Manning show us how to read a defense, Stephen Curry help us shoot the three, Clayton Kershaw assist us with the curveball. They’re that good.
Our class was centered on rifle handling and shooting from various field positions. Among other things, Il Ling showed me how to better brace myself in a kneeling position, how to quickly and more efficiently use a sling, a better way to employ the sitting position and how to rapidly deploy my rifle when it was slung over the shoulder and a quick shot opportunity presented itself. Mario ran me around the moving silhouette courses, helping me more quickly and efficiently make that first shot count under field conditions. We did fun stuff, too, like the life-sized grizzly bear paper target they place on a radio-controlled cart and have charge you from 20 paces, and the walk-about course where you shoot steel targets out to 300 meters in a situation that is just like spot-and-stalk Western hunting for deer and elk.
When you think you know it all, you realize you really don’t. Whether it be for a hunter preparation course or one of Gunsite’s bread-and-butter courses that revolve around pistol, rifle and shotgun shooting, self-defense and more, I recommend this place without hesitation. I cannot wait to go back! More information is available at www.gunsite.com or by calling (928) 636-4565.
How about you? Had any experiences with shooting schools? If so, did they make you a better field shot? Drop me a note at email@example.com and let me know.