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Notes on Building a Training Group

May 13, 2019

I was having a discussion with my buddy, John Meyers, who writes for ZeroGov occasionally, the other day, and we were discussing my weekly training group. He’s had trouble getting people to show up for MONTHLY range days, and wanted to know how I built a team of a dozen, that show up weekly. I told him, and then mentioned that it might be a good article idea.

To begin with, you need to be serious, both mentally and physically. That means, if you’re trying to get guys (and gals) to commit to spending several hours a week, on the range, spending money on ammunition, you’d better be able to do what you’re going to ask them to do.

Our training group started out with four of us. It was me, and three other guys from our “clan of choice” (the clan of choice is a group of friends, some of us who have been friends since grade school. We’ve all been in shitty situations together, and have developed trust with one another, over the better part of four decades).

So, it kind of started like this…we were having a Fourth-of-July party several years ago, at another member of the clan’s place. He had an ad hoc pistol range set up on his place, on the edge of a ravine, so the beaten zone from spent rounds were hitting the hillside on the other side of the ravine. The maximum distance you could shoot was about 25 yards.

It was shortly after we moved back to the area from Idaho, and there were members of the clan that I didn’t know, and didn’t know me, despite me being one of the originals, from the 4th grade. Someone had mentioned that there would be some range time and guys would be doing some shooting though.

So, when we rolled up, me being me, I had my M4, an AK, my G17, my wife’s M4, and several thousand rounds of ammunition, as well as IDPA silhouettes and some steel plates (the land owner was a “serious” shooter, and carried a gun professionally, so I assumed if he had a range, there was some sort of infrastructure in place…).

I really didn’t think anything of it, until I realized that several people were carrying Ruger P89s in nylon thumb break holsters, and there were a number of old SKS in evidence. The land owner had his duty weapons—a Glock 22 and an AR15 with CAR15 handguards and stock, and an old fixed carrying handle, with a red dot on top of that.

Not being an asshole, I kept my mouth shut, and watched as people blasted shotgun patterns, with their pistols and rifles, into some old shot up paper LE type qual targets. Finally, someone asked me if I wanted to take a turn.

I said, sure, and asked what we were doing (because, legitimately, I had seen no rhyme or reason to anything so far.) Somebody responded with “whatever.” So, I hung up a new, clean IDPA target, stepped off thirty feet, hit the random start on the shot timer, and when it beeped, did a really basic controlled pair to the head…in 1.75 seconds.

After a couple rounds of that, I offered that I had some steel plates in my truck, that we could set up across the ravine, if guys wanted to shoot it. So, we lugged a couple of 8” steel plates across the ravine, to about 60 yards away.

Guys were blasting through mags trying to get hits. I finally took a turn, and realized you couldn’t really see the target very well, so I leaned way over on one side, almost head down, lined up a shot, and hit the steel.

None of this was particularly novel or challenging, of course, but it wasn’t what they were used to, either (I didn’t hear it, but after the rifle hit, my wife swears, three different people said, “How the hell did he do that?”)

So, I mentioned that I had set up a range at the farm, and would be shooting on Saturday mornings, if anyone wanted to come hang out and shoot. Three showed up the first weekend. A couple weeks later, we had like fifteen people from the clan show up, but they didn’t come back, because I insisted on them doing things right, and some of them didn’t want to take corrective criticism very well. That’s okay, they’re family.

The three that did keep showing up showed up almost every weekend for a year. In the meantime, I had met some other local folks, and invited one or two of them out, after I’d gotten a feel for them. Eventually, someone else invited someone along.

Here’s how the “selection process” works.

I’m not going to go into detail about how we organize a weekly session, because I’ve done that, not too long ago, in an article here.

1) If you’ve been showing up at least 3 out of 4 weekends, for at least one year, you can invite someone to show up. Up until you can demonstrate enough dedication to show up a majority of the time, you’re basically on probation, to see if we like you, if you get along with everyone, if you’re safe, and if you’re trainable.

2) After you’ve been there for at least a year, you can invite another shooter to show up. That shooter can come three times, before they get voted on. Only people who’ve been showing up for at least a year get a vote, and a vote has to be unanimous, or the new shooter cannot come back. Nobody has to explain a “No” vote, and we do it semi-anonymously (i.e. I call each person and ask them what their vote is.). That rule goes for people I invite as well. It’s my farm and my range, but we’re a team, training together. The only caveat to that is, if I see an egregious safety violation, and the perpetrator doesn’t fix it when it’s pointed out, they’re gone on my say-so alone. My farm, my liability.

3) I made sure, before I started having guys come out, that I was set up to do serious training. I had IDPA silhouettes on-hand, and adequate target stands for them. I had steel plates hung at various distances, for the drills I knew we were going to run. For the first month, I made sure I had a solid training plan in mind, so guys wouldn’t be bored, or worrying about “what’re we gonna do next?” (I still make sure I have a training plan each week, but if someone shows up and wants to introduce a new drill, they can. I also try and get guys to teach something occasionally).

While a lot of our drills are very physical, I make sure that I don’t ask them to do anything I can’t do…preferably better and faster, but that’s not always the case. We’ve started getting some studs showing up who can either outrun me or outshoot me (so far, we haven’t had anybody that can do both…I wish.). If people know you’re serious, they’ll take it more serious. When guys start getting a little lacksadaisacal about shit, I’ll stop the training and just ask them, “Why the fuck are you here? Seriously? If it’s just to make noise and have fun, that’s fine. It’s way easier on me. If you’re serious though, be fucking serious.” It’s worked every time so far.

4) I make sure I have an extra rifle, and extra pistol, and extra chest rig and holsters, for guys that show up missing things, or the guys who haven’t been able to buy good gear yet. I also encourage guys to run slick occasionally, to get used to it.

5) So, what have the benefits been? We’ve got a group of 12-16 men and women (we have three or four women that shoot somewhat regularly…) that went from being barely competent at safely handling their weapons, and maybe hitting minute-of-man with their pistols at 7 yards, who can pass the FBI Handgun Qualification, and the state POST qualification, and then look at me, and say, “Are you fucking kidding me? That’s all they have to do? That was cake!” We’ve got a group of people, most of whom did not own an AR15, some of whom had only shot M16s in the military, ten or twenty years ago, who can run effective drills, getting solid, repeatable hits, out to 200+ yards, under stress, in varying weather conditions (it pissed on us all day this week again, and nobody bothered bitching, even when guys were going ass over teakettle in the mud).

At this stage, with the exception of one guy, who was scrimping and saving for the down payment on his house, everyone has invested in a decent AR15/M4 variant. Everyone has invested in a basic LBE setup of some sort (a couple of them I donated to guys, out of my “old LBE box.” Guys who hadn’t before, now have “get home bags” in their trucks. Guys who had CCWs, actually carry their guns now, because they have legitimate, quantifiable confidence in their ability with their carry guns. Everyone replaced their POS guns with Glocks (we have one dude who carries a SIG. He’s got a similar background to me, in another branch though, so I just let him do him on that front. We have another dude who is still carrying a 1911, but he’s new, and is already talking about switching out to a Glock).

6) One of the things we do is a group text message for everyone who has been voted in after their third visit (with the exception of one guy, who—while loveable—won’t ever STFU, so our phones would be going off all the time if we included him…). In it, we post what we did for PT every day. While initially I was a little concerned that this would push guys away, it’s done the exact opposite. We’ve got guys who haven’t done a pushup in twenty years, who have started lifting, doing calisthenics, rucking, and sprinting. Most of the guys who were overweight have changed their diet, and seen dramatic changes in body composition and overall health and fitness. (To be clear, we’re dudes in our thirties and forties—we might have one or two still in their twenties, I’m not sure—that’s not ALL we post in the text group. We also discuss everything else that men in their 30s and 40s discuss. The women have a separate text group. We’re misogynists like that…Actually, it’s just that the women tend to talk about shit that makes the men blush.)


I genuinely believe that the key to getting a successful training group together and going is simply being serious. Start out by yourself if you have to, and people will notice that you’re serious about it. Do your PT—do real PT—and people are going to notice and comment and ask questions about the changes. Neighbors, or other range members are going to ask questions about the drills you’re shooting.

Spend a little money, or a little time, and get set up with quality training support equipment. Get a shot timer. Get some target stands. Get some silhouette targets. Get some steel plates if you can afford it. Bring a kettlebell or a sled to the range with you, and incorporate some physical tasks in with your training drills. Let the people around you see that you’re serious. At the very least, some aggressive kid in his 20s is going to want to take part (I’ve had it happen to me. Some kid can’t imagine that old dude can do anything he can’t do, and gets suckered into the challenge…). If you’re really lucky, you might even get noticed by some dude who’s part of an already established training group and invited to tag along for a few visits, and then you find out you’ve been recruited into a pretty stand up group of training partners.

If you can’t find suitable drills to run, out of the like 8 gazillion drills posted all over the Internet, you can always sign up for the subscription drills that I do twice a month. I’ve not had any complaints about the quality of those drills, so far…which makes sense, since they’re the same drills we run at my range.

But, if you’re the typical fat slob gun owner, who thinks PT stands for Pizza and Titties at the strip club, and you think “practical tactical training” is shooting minute-of-man off the bench at 25 yards, nobody is going to take you serious and want to train with you, and rightfully so.

Open yourself up to meeting new people and trying new training experiences. I’ve had a number of people in classes who met folks who lived near them, that they’d never met, and ended up as good friends and training partners. Do the work.

Or, to paraphrase the Costner movie…”Build the training group, and serious people will come.”


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  1. Dave permalink

    Wow. Good stuff man. i am one of those who has been looking for a good group of folks to train with – i will give your suggestions about just getting out there and training with a ‘team of one’ and see what happens. “Build it and they will come”

  2. Michael permalink

    Your home situation sounds a lot like my own. I love on a small ranch with lots of critters; beef cattle, chickens, duck s, dogs etc at the end (and I mean END) of the road. 30 minutes to the closest town. I’m a little jealous of your group, I have trouble finding any one who is even half added serious about any kind of preparation.

  3. TGM permalink

    Thanks for this. I’ve been trying to form some kind of group here in the politically deepest red part of my reddish-purple state, and have found no one to join up aside from a few family members with Mil/LEO background, I have the only combat time in the group. I recently got my DD214 after 8 years in and three overseas tours. My family members consist of my dad, who has all the mental attributes you could ask for and out shoots me with minimal training (he’s one of those guys who is good at everything he tries), but is the only one in our group with no Mil/LEO time. Also, he’s almost 60 and his running and gunning days include more gunning and less running. The other two members include my former-corpsman brother-in-law, who is competent but a bit silly and as you put it, lackadaisical, but not unsafe. Just a bit un-serious sometimes. Last member is my other brother-in-law, a LEO of about 18 months experience. He’s full of that badge for sure, has only recently stopped flashing it to us (I told him I’d throw in the woods if he ever flashed it on my property again, especially since his jurisdiction is over an hour away from my rural property), couldn’t keep a secret if his life depended on it and is interested in shooting ONLY for the cool factor and his job. No interest in SHTF prep at all, because he firmly believes his city police force is going to save the world.

    Basically, it’s me, as far as safe, competent, experienced and trustworthy gunfighters go.

    I’ve got space for a great pistol/shotgun range, and space for a zeroing range for rifles.

    I’ll reread this and take it to heart. I’ve got to get some people. It’s been extremely difficult to find anyone.

  4. David Ziebol permalink

    ‘ I also encourage guys to run slick occasionally, to get used to it.’
    Definition please. I googled it and only came up with DB references.

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