Hand-Picked Daily GUN DEALS, and Exclusive Coupons Codes >>>

[Review] Gunsite Academy: Col. Cooper Lives On

Looking to train at Gunsite Academy? Find out if this shooting/fighting school is for you with our review of their 250 Pistol course.

I recently got the opportunity to attend a 250 Pistol class at the fabled Gunsite Academy near Prescott, Arizona.  

The experience was amazing and the things I learned fell into a number of categories—all of which improved my life in small ways.  

But class is not cheap, check their website for details, but it is an incredible value for a week’s worth of instruction.

I arrived at Gunsite on the first day, just before sunrise.
I arrived at Gunsite on the first day, just before sunrise.

My experience level gives me a somewhat different perspective with which to judge the training I received.  

I’ve been in law enforcement for twenty years.

I was a SWAT commander for a very small rural agency and also have been a firearms instructor for five years.

I’ve been writing in the gun industry for about five years so I’ve been exposed to some interesting ideas about techniques, training, and how to approach tactical situations.  I’m no Tier 1 operator and I am also no mall ninja, I dwell in the grey areas in-between.

Me! (Sean) training at Combat Force Academy
Me! (Sean) Training with a LWRCI Rifle 

Regardless, I have been completely enamored with the idea of attending training at Gunsite for many years.

Anyone who has been around a few decades or is possessed with an inordinate amount of wisdom and understands knows that you cannot know it all—especially when perishable skills like shooting are involved.  

No matter how much I learn during a career, during a lifetime, there will always be more out there. So given my experience, but also my attitude, I traveled to Gunsite to learn all I could.

The southwest is amazing.  

Making the drive from Colorado to Arizona is in my mind, exposure to some of the most beautiful geography this country has to offer.  Crossing areas where Billy the Kid once historically roamed, I then found myself near the Grand Canyon and one of the greatest impact craters the U.S. has ever seen.  

Finally, I entered the mountains (yes real mountains) of Arizona before reaching the high desert surrounding Prescott, and Gunsite itself.

Quick History Lesson

You have to understand, I am a bit of a history nerd.  

People have been studying, understanding, and advancing shooting and combat since these topics were invented.  Legendary among these visionaries stands Col. Jeff Cooper, founder of Gunsite.

Gunsite is a fighting school, not just a shooting school.  Here Randy demonstrated reloading in your workspace so you can stay aware of threats (no head down).
Gunsite is a fighting school, not just a shooting school.  Here Randy demonstrated reloading in your workspace so you can stay aware of threats (no head down).

Before Cooper came along we shot pistols with one hand.  

Before the age of Cooper, we did not always teach the combative mindset as well as the physical skills necessary for defensive shooting.  We also did not have a proper codified system to describe the mental status of folks who were either unaware, prepared, or engaging threats.

Col. Cooper gave us so many things to ponder in our martial way, then he gave us a school to attend in order to begin our education—Gunsite. He also wrote prolifically about these things in books and magazines.  

For many reasons, Gunsite is a Mecca for me.

Observation: During the first day of class a tumbleweed rolled and bounced across the range, causing me to chuckle.  Some students had come from back east, California, and major metropolitan areas. This must have seemed like the cliched Old West to many.

Upon arrival at the school, I met up with my 15 classmates and three instructors.  The sprawling compound of Gunsite spreads out over the desert and includes classrooms, administration buildings, a pro shop, on-site gunsmith, and of course multiple ranges including pistol, rifle, long distance, and specialty areas such as shoot house and Arroyo.  

There is also The Sconce, which I’ll touch on later. In the briefing, we learned the totem/symbol for Gunsite is the Raven, representing Huginn and Munnin, Odin’s passers on of wisdom.

Joe (left) and Gary (right) demonstrate how at close distance, only the front sight is critical.
Joe (left) and Gary (right) demonstrate how at close distance, only the front sight is critical.

From my experience the instructors at Gunsite are top-notch.  

Gary, Randy, and Joe all came from diverse backgrounds but their shooting skills were impressive.  More important than that, their teaching skills were well above par. When you pay for training you never truly know what you’re going to get until you get there and experience it.  

From my few years of training police officers, cadets in the academy, and brand new students, these guys had quality in spades.

Observation: One day while loading magazines I peered out the window of the shed and noticed a prehistoric grasshopper the size of a house cat, walking through the desert.  It screeched terrifyingly and I ducked down so it could not see me. It was clearly an apex predator in its environment.

One of the biggest challenges you may not even realize when you sign up for a class is your safety.  When you have 16 people in a school, there are bound to be a few shooters who really have their poop in a group.  

There will be a vast majority that is somewhere in the middle, and a few who are just downright scary when it comes to gun handling.  My instructors taught everyone with aplomb, making sure no one mishandled their firearms or endangered other students. I’ve seen safety violations at other training events that were not noticed by other students—not at Gunsite.

From the classroom to ranges, shoot house and pro-shop, the facilities were great!
From the classroom to ranges, shoot house and pro-shop, the facilities were great!

Observation: One afternoon a raven floated languidly overhead on thermals, burbling its approval.  Col. Cooper was watching and was pleased.

By the end of the week, through repetition and personal coaching, the students were vastly improved.  I’m not passing off some lip service here. The standards at Gunsite are high. Consider that one of the first drills in the qualification is shooting a triangle around the eyes of a human-sized target at three yards, from the holster, in 1.5 seconds.

Gunsite is not a SWAT school, it’s not basic training.  

We didn’t run around everywhere carrying ridiculous amounts of gear.  We also weren’t doing pushups when we screwed up. But we did focus on critical firearms fundamentals, like the four safety rules.  

We were drilled regularly on these. We also spent a majority of time on the range. While there were important lessons taught in the classroom (lookup the Combat Triad), the lion’s share of the lessons was taught on the range.  The bulk of the firearms training is police academy level or better.

Observation: The night shoot happened on Thursday.  As dusk fell, a coyote howled and the stars began to light the night sky.  The students from more civilized settings (like Chicago!) were stunned to see endless sky filled with the Milky Way above.

One highlight was COO Ken Campbell delivering Icee Pops during the hot days.
One highlight was COO Ken Campbell delivering Icee Pops during the hot days.

The entire week built up to and then culminated in several qualification drills.  There were a couple on the range, one was a shoot house, and another was shooting steel targets while navigating a challenging arroyo with an instructor.


By the end of the week, the students enjoyed a camaraderie from a shared experience.  When we all graduated, we received our diplomas to the applause of our fellow students who knew what we had been through, what we had achieved.  

Every single shooter had improved.  I do not say this lightly.  Some people had made amazing leaps in skills, others were simply more honed.  There is no crap, no fluff, taught at Gunsite. Everything has a purpose and has often been tested in one form of combat or another.  

While some schools may teach you marksmanship, Gunsite does not quibble about this. They are a fighting school.

Mrs. Cooper was a gracious host, speaking with us about the school, Col. Cooper, and their home.
Mrs. Cooper was a gracious host, speaking with us about the school, Col. Cooper, and their home.

At the end, we were all invited to join Mrs. Cooper in her home called The Sconce, for lemonade and brownies, a Gunsite tradition.  

I would not have missed it for the world!

What Col. Cooper has done for us, for me and people of a similar mindset, in particular, has been nothing short of revolutionary.  

To train in the school that Cooper built was a dream come true for me. To stand in his observatory where he wrote, to see his armory… the whole situation was nothing short of a religious experience for this cop/firearms instructor/writer.  A part of my mind will now ever be dedicated to machinations which will place me back in that hallowed desert.

If you ever get the chance, go to Gunsite.  You’ll thank me later.

What training have you attended? Planning on taking more? Let us know in the comments! Gearing up for your first training event? Check out our Editor’s Picks for our recommendations on the best gear!

The Best Gun Deals, Coupons and Finds

Subscribe to Pew Pew Tactical's sales and deals email.

8 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Richard Hyman

    Great read! I'm not sure how I missed this one as I check pewpewtactical.com almost daily. I really enjoyed your perspective on Gunsite as I will be going there for next week's Vets 250 Pistols class. Like you this is a bit of a pilgrimmage for me as well. My father was in one of the first classes back in 1976 so I'm looking forward to going (even managed to get the same hotel room he stayed in 43 years ago). Really fun read, great balance of humor and message delivery. Keep it up!

    July 17, 2019 7:58 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      Very cool history! Have a great time while you're there!

      July 18, 2019 4:25 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Richard Hyman

        Just came back from a week in the Vets 250 Pistols class and it was every bit the experience that you describe in your article. Demanding at times, but some of the best shooting and shooting education I've had. Instructors were great and the amount of knowledge they passed gave me tips and techniques I'll be working into my training for sometime to come. I will definitely be making a return trip for one of the many other classes they offer!

        July 29, 2019 8:48 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Richard Hyman

        Not sure if you heard, but Mrs Cooper passed away on Monday. It’s on the Gunsite FB page. Thought you’d like to know since you got the chance to meet her.

        July 31, 2019 1:17 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Thanks Richard!

      Sorry for the delayed response. I'm sad to report Mrs. Cooper passed away in July, 2019 at the Sconce, their home on the range. Despite this great loss, Gunsite is still, in many ways, tantamount to gun-toting Mecca. I hope you enjoyed your class.

      Thanks for the comments,

      December 17, 2019 3:38 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I had no idea you are from Colorado. What range do you visit most here?

    January 16, 2019 4:18 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis


      Thanks for stopping by, I'm in NOCO. When I need to shoot indoors I go to Liberty Firearms Institute, their facility is amazing. However, I typically shoot at the Pawnee Sportsman Center. Dick is tolerant of my special needs when it comes to shooting and photography.

      January 26, 2019 11:48 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Very nice.
    I haven't been there since '91, but I'd love to go back.
    Mrs Cooper was a delight, even then.

    January 15, 2019 5:17 pm
Join the community! Log in
Please provide a valid email address.
Password is required.
Please provide a valid display name.
Please provide a valid email address.
The password should contain at least 8 characters with at least one number or special character.
Please accept in order to continue.
Trouble logging in?
Type your email address and we’ll send you a link to reset your password.
Please provide a valid email.
Type your new password and hit button below to confirm it.
Field is required.
Account already exists
We already have an account registered for email address () which is linked to your Facebook account.
To log in type your Pew Pew Meter password below.
Field is required.
Account already exists
We noticed that you have previously logged in with your Account which is linked to the same email address () - we can link both of your accounts together.
In order to link your accounts, hit button below and log in to your Account with the same email as above.

Account in Pew Pew Meter means more

Check what do you get by creating an account
Check and save your reviews!
Bookmark and compare your favorite firearms
Manage your newsletter subscription
pew pew tactical logo

new here?

Personalize your experience.
Select what level shooter you are!

pew pew tactical logo

level up your gun knowledge

Thanks! We'll send you the latest guides and training tips geared towards your level.

pew pew tactical logo


You'll now receive newsletters of our best articles on techniques, guns & gear.

$47 value

yours free!

targets targets

practice targets

printer icon printable

our 9 favorite targets and drills


practice targets

printer icon printable

enter your email to download

We'll only use the information provided according to our privacy policy.

success icon

Ready to Download

Click below to begin your download

download pdf