Training is a perishable skill.
Due to the real need for upkeep and – let’s face it – up-leveling, the only way to keep your self-defense skills going is by training consistently with solid instructors.
Finding a good instructor can be tricky, though.
Cost aside there’s the fact the only instructor in your area might be some guy wearing hard knuckle gloves and a shemagh to teach basic pistol.
So who’s good? I’m glad you asked.
These are my top five picks for guys who should be on your bucket list to train with.
Best Firearm Instructors
Note, these are not in order of ranking.
Just in order of how they were added to the list. Number 2 isn’t necessarily better than number 4.
1. Massad Ayoob
This is a little like starting with the boom instead of leading up to it. Mas Ayoob is a cop and instructor who has been teaching and writing for decades.
He’s also invaluable as a teacher. I’ve learned more from Mas than from any other instructor out there and I don’t mean only for live fire. His lectures are fantastic.
If you can only take one class, take MAG-40 (MAG stands for Massad Ayoob Group). MAG-40 incorporates twenty hours of lecture and twenty hours of range time into four extremely busy days.
During those hours Mas drops a ridiculous amount of knowledge on his students about self-defense law, technique, and practical applications.
He’s said more than once he tries to get as much information out as possible but it’s flat impossible to do it all. That’s why you should take it more than once. And take MAG-80, MAG-120, and MAG-180, too.
MAG-40 is the kind of class you save your pennies for as long as it takes. Mas teaches the class across the country so at some point he’ll probably be within semi-reasonable traveling distance.
There’s also MAG-20 – one for live fire, one for lecture only – that splits the content in two. I would say attend lecture if you must choose only one.
Take a laptop because you won’t be able to write by hand fast enough to write down everything you need to remember. I have dozens of pages of notes and when I re-take his classes I write it all down again.
Not only are there always things I missed, there’s new stuff, too: Mas keeps his curriculum up-to-date to reflect and include current events.
If you can’t make a class yet, at least get one of his books to get you started!
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
2. Spencer Keepers
Where Mas is the king of, well, everything, Spencer Keepers is the undeniable master of AIWB (Appendix Inside the WaistBand). Not only does he make holsters designed specifically for AIWB carry, he teaches classes on it. He’s a freaking stellar shot, too.
Keepers’ teaches a long list of classes through his training company, Awareness Defense Training.
Available classes include Essential Handgun Skills, Situational Control, and Defensive Handgun I/II/II/IV but it’s his AIWB Skills class you should put on your bucket list. He calls it his signature class and it really is, in excellent ways.
AIWB Skills covers all things AIWB from proper holsters to safety to drawing from concealment. If you want to master carrying AIWB, take this class. If you think AIWB is a great way to shoot your sensitive bits off, take this class.
Either way, it’s a win because you walk away with the knowledge necessary to make an educated decision.
A quick word on holsters. If you’re looking for a holster specifically designed for AIWB by the master of this carry method check out Keepers Concealment. His first holster, the Keeper, is still offered and is a favorite of many gun owners.
And if you don’t want an AIWB model there’s The Mentor, designed for strong side hip carry. There are options, and Keepers knows his stuff.
3. Tom Givens
With a background including twenty-five years in law enforcement and specialized security work Tom Givens definitely has a good foundation for self-defense training.
He’s the founder of Rangemaster Firearms Training Services and has a reputation as a tough but fair trainer; for those who prefer blunt honesty to kids gloves, Givens is your guy.
Givens and his wife Lynn travel across the country teaching but are perhaps best known for the annual TacCon event, the location of which varies by year. What’s so cool about TacCon? A lot of things.
TacCon – Tactical Conference – is an annual event comprised of a variety of classes taught by different instructors. Classes run the gamut of self-defense and first aid and if you have any way of attending, you should.
Want to run your pistol better from concealment? TacCon.
Need better emergency medical training? TacCon.
Interested in improving your force-on-force skills? TacCon.
And if you don’t live in the southern portion of the country, where TacCon is typically hosted, there’s always Pacific Northwest TacCon.
PNW TacCon is held at Firearms Academy of Seattle in Onalaska, Washington in alternate years and brings many of the same instructors and stellar content on-site.
Basically you have no excuse not to go. It’s going to be within the realm of possibility at some point no matter where you live.
Can’t swing TacCon? Givens teaches both lecture and live-fire at a number of locations throughout the year.
Still can’t do it? Read one of his books. I recommend Fighting Smarter: A Practical Guide for Surviving Violent Confrontations, but he does have others.
4. Gunsite Academy
Yes, I realize this is a place, not a person. I’ll readily admit former Border Patrol agent Ed Head is a favorite of mine at Gunsite Academy but there are a slew of stellar instructors there.
Taking Gunsite 250 should be crazy high on your priority list but there are a ton of other classes at the renowned academy worth attending.
Does it take a significant investment of time and money to hit Gunsite? Yes it does, but it is more worthwhile than I can even begin to explain.
Gunsite was founded by the late Jeff Cooper in 1971 as the American Pistol Institute.
It’s located in Paulden, Arizona – yes, it gets hot, no, don’t make “but it’s a dry heat” jokes – and spans 4.5 square miles. They’re equipped with a Pro Shop, a full-service gunsmith, and a campground.
At the campground you can find laundry facilities, hot water, and trailer hookups. There’s also the House on Gunsite Road, a rental home located half a mile from the academy that has everything from privacy and a porch to space to work on guns.
Just saying, there are options for your stay.
Their classes aren’t limited to the expected defensive pistol work, either; Gunsite offers classes like Church Defense, Team Tactics for Two, and Night Vision Pistol/Carbine (for a start).
It doesn’t matter if you shoot a 1911, a revolver, or a Glock. It’s all welcome.
Another PPT writer, Sean, wrote an awesome review of Gunsite also that is absolutely worth checking out!
5. Sig Sauer Academy
An internationally recognized training facility, Sig Sauer Academy is exactly what you would expect — huge, beautiful, and incredible.
Located in New Hampshire, Sig covers basically every type of class that you might be interested in taking. New gun owner, pistol, rifle, even 1,000 yard long range precision rifle. If it shoots, Sig has a class on it — almost.
What stands out most about SSA is their staff and the facility they have build. If you want some of the most friendly and helpful trainers around, SSA is the place to find them. Every one of their trainers is a professional and acts like it.
As for the facility, the map alone should tell you something about what it’s like.
Ya, it’s kind of like Disneyland but for learning about firearms!
If you’re in the NH area or can plan a trip, Sig Sauer Academy is a must-go.
A top 5 list is limited to just 5, but there are a LOT more than 5 awesome trainers and training groups out there. Here is a few more that we highly recommend!
Head trainer and owner Aaron Cowan is former US Army, law enforcement, and one of the most dedicated and studious trainers we have ever encountered.
If you want a taste of what training with Cowan is like, take a look at his YouTube channel. In it he covers a huge range of topics and incredible detailed reviews.
Everything from human anatomy and how it relates to a self-defense shooting to the durability of red dot optics after 20,000 rounds fired and 40 chest-height drops onto concrete, Sage Dynamics doesn’t pull punches.
Training classes are focused on self-defense shooting, pistol, rifle, low light, and a detailed course on vehicle defense where you’ll have the opportunity to shoot the crap out of a car to see first hand exactly what is and isn’t bulletproof.
Sage Dynamics is also a huge proponit of red dot optics on pistols for self-defense and duty. Cowan also keeps a white paper publicly available on Miniaturized Red Dot Systems for Duty Handgun Use.
If you’re interested in a running list of what red dots he has tested, what has passed his destructive testing, or why exactly you should be considering a red dot on your CCW or duty pistol, the white paper is an incredible resource.
Most training is focused on simple topics, rifle, pistol, and the like. But if you want more niche training, such as how to make first-round hits at insane distances, you’ll need specialized training like the kind found at K&M Precision in Tennessee.
If you’re getting started in long range, looking to take your competition game to the next level, or interested in long range moving targets like hunting — K&M has a class for you.
Maybe best of all, K&M has a REALLY nice set of bunk houses for you to stay in while taking classes. And if you’re flying in, they even provide the linens!
If you’ve ever traveled for training before, you know what a nightmare it can be to find a hotel, figure out transportation to and from the range, etc. K&M handles that for you while putting you up in some nice digs.
And they don’t charge extra for it.
This is just some of the great trainers around that you can take classes from.
It is critically important to get firearms training and to keep your skills sharp, but it’s also important to research your trainers/classes first. Bad training is far worse than no training.
What kind of training have you gotten? Planing on taking new classes soon? Let us know in the comments! For some awesome at-home training you can do to keep up your skills, take a look at the Safe and Effective Dry-Fire Training at Home [Guide]!