This blog post is part of a 3-part series that, together, make up an AAR of the 7th Annual A Girl & A Gun Women’s Shooting League National Conference. Held in Burnet, Texas, April 8—14, 2019, the conference brought together more than 450 AG&AG members and leadership and 40 top-tier instructors for a total of 8 days of networking, education, and training.
Spencer Keepers, Keepers Concealment: AIWB Skills
It’s been my great pleasure and honor to train with Spencer Keepers on the same side of the line, as students in Tom Givens’ Rangemaster Advanced Instructor course in October 2018 at the Dallas Police training range. Spencer is the leading expert in appendix carry and has proven with his line of holsters, his curriculum and his own blazing-fast draw times that appendix carry can work for a variety of body types and skill sets. My first class as a student at conference this year was a condensed version of Spencer’s AIWB Skills class.
I arrived at the class with my S&W Shield 9mm in a Keepers Errand holster. The holster’s design is solid and features a high-quality clip option that doesn’t require a belt and allows rise height and cant adjustment and good passive retention. My Errand was a bit long and dug into my upper thigh when seated, a problem Spencer addressed when the started the class with a condensed lecture on concealment options for women. He happened to have a shorter version of the Errand for my Shield and allowed me to use it for the class. The difference in the length of the original Errand and the Shorty Errand is only about 1/8 of an inch, but it made a tremendous difference in my comfort level during the class. Spencer said he’s working on a redesign that will incorporate the feedback he’s received from women who use his holsters, including his “smokin’ hot wife,” whose valuable input has helped Keepers Concealment refine their holster line so it’s more friendly to women’s concealed carry needs and body styles. And no, none of the holsters are pink or sparkly.
AIWB safety and applicability
Some detractors of AIWB carry voice concerns about the direction of the gun and, more importantly, muzzle direction during drawstroke and holstering. The AIWB Skills class addresses those concerns with an emphasis on muzzle and trigger finger awareness when leaving the holster and while holstering a loaded gun. Added emphasis is placed on stepping back with the strong-side foot and thrusting hips forward when holstering to avoid any possibility of muzzling your own body at any time. Once in the holster, the gun is secure and the trigger guard is completely covered, just as safe as it would be in any other quality IWB or OWB holster.
When done correctly and with awareness, Spencer showed his classes that AIWB carry could be the answer to students’ concerns about how to carry responsibly, on-body, while staying safe. In addition, Spencer addressed concealing higher-capacity guns with a simple shift in holster placement. Many women have shared that a more midline carry position, along with the foam wedges that come with Keepers Concealment holsters to tuck the grip into the body, help them conceal double-stack guns. Add in slightly larger pants sizes, shirt material and prints, and AIWB carry can be the answer a lot of women are seeking for every day, on-body carry.
Performance testing and standards
We shot from 3, 5, and 7 yards at 2-inch and 8-inch circles for our first few drills, incorporating what we’d learned about safe appendix drawstroke and holstering. Spencer and his assistant instructor provided one-on-one coaching and plenty of humor during the skill development part of the class, which featured timed drills. The goal was an accurate shot from concealment to the 2-inch circle at 5 yards in less than 2 seconds, and every student regardless of skill level was able to demonstrate that standard by the end of class. Spencer introduced a little pressure with head-to-head timed shooting competitions. He awarded new Keepers Concealment Challenge Coins to the top shooter of a 5-shot drill to a 2-inch circle, and to the top shooter of a 3-2-1 drill.
Personal skillset evaluation
As usual, my performance at the beginning of class was much better than my performance at higher speeds. My drawstroke is moderately fast (for me) and consistent, but I continue to struggle with accuracy at speed. When I focus on slowing down just a hair, prepping the trigger between shots, and taking a split second to verify my sight picture, my shots are much more accurate. Mindset is huge for me in timed shooting. If I’m thinking about going fast, I’m not thinking about putting those fundamentals into practice and I make unacceptable hits. That’s what cost me a challenge coin in a shoot-off, and it became a resounding theme in other classes. I’m just not as fast as I want to be, and in order to get there, I need a whole lot more dry-fire and a whole lot more work with the timer. That’s my homework. I hope to train with Spencer again soon and have the chance to earn a challenge coin.
The rest of TD1: Take-aways
As I socialized and networked with other ladies in the AG&AG community, there was a lot of talk about “training bubbles” and “getting out of your comfort zone.” While it’s admirable to want to push yourself to work hard, learn more, and train more, it’s never OK to do something or stay in a class that makes you feel unsafe. In addition, when you’re still learning the fundamentals, jealously guard the development of your safe gun handling skills and adherence to the safety rules.
Every trainer has their own way of doing things, and much of that depends on their own training background. Some trainers have an extensive background in military, law enforcement or competition training. Best training practices for members of the military and members of law enforcement are radically different than those that incorporate the rules of engagement for armed civilians. As civilians who carry firearms, we are ethically and legally responsible for every round that leaves our guns. That’s why so much of my own training background and curriculum focuses on safety (i.e. treating every gun as though it’s loaded, safe muzzle direction and trigger finger discipline). Armed citizens cannot afford to practice unsafe gun handling at any time, and as one of my TD1 instructors said at the beginning of class, “What you do with an unloaded gun, you’ll do with a loaded gun. Guaranteed.”
How do I know a class is right for me?
This is the perfect opportunity to address how we select instructors whose curriculum is applicable to us as armed civilians. Every good instructor posts a training resume or CV for all the world to see. If you know who an instructor has trained with, then you know what to expect in their classes. No one is reinventing the wheel, and for good reason. Trends in firearms techniques and training have all been tried; some old techniques that have been proven unsafe or replaced by best practices come back into fashion from time to time as new trainers try to make a name for themselves by claiming they’re revolutionizing the training industry. Good instructors develop their curriculum based on what they’ve learned from better instructors and mentors along the way.
Choose your instructors based on their transparency, their recent training, their willingness and ability to articulate WHY they teach certain techniques, and the applicability of those reasons to your situation, needs and current skill level. If you’re an armed citizen, for example, it may not be in your best interests to train with competition, military or law enforcement trainers whose reality is so vastly different than that of an armed citizen. Defensive firearms training for civilians needs to focus on safety, accountability and responsibility, above all.
Leave the high-speed, low-drag “big boy rules” for the weekend door-kickers. We’re training for real life here.