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Training Red Flags: What to Look Out for When Choosing Instructors

Choosing a gun class or instructor can be tough. So, we've got tips on the red flags to look out for when picking an instructor.

Training with your firearm is inherently valuable. It can also be fun, interesting, and a great way to spend a weekend.

More often than not, the best training comes from a professional and experienced instructor.

Students using SIRT pistols to practice instructing new shooters.

It comes down to the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know. An instructor knows what you don’t know and can teach you what you don’t know.

There are tons of experienced instructors out there teaching classes for concealed carry, home defense, and even how to be a better competitive shooter. It’s a big business, and as with any business, there are good options and bad options.

The choice is yours gif

Unfortunately, we don’t have a Better Business Bureau or Instructor Council to tell us who is competent and who is not.

It’s up to you as the customer to find a reputable instructor, and we are here to help you. We’ve gathered a few red flags you should be on the lookout for.

So keep reading!

8 Trainer Red Flags to Look Out For

1. A Questionable or Crazy Background

When I say a crazy background, I don’t mean something like Pat McNamara. His background as a U.S. Army SF guy, a Delta Force operator, and a firearms instructor is real experience, and it’s valuable.

Pat McNamara (Photo: Aimpoint)

Instead, watch out for some of the following phrases:

  • Operator: Without explaining what they mean. I’m an Operator too, but it’s a forklift operator.
  • Black Ops
  • “I have X Years of Military Experience”: Without any elaboration on what that service consisted of. Some people shoot guns, others drive trucks, and that makes a difference.
  • “Insert unknown organization” Instructor: If it’s not a well-known firearm organization, it doesn’t mean it’s bad; but it might be worth looking into.

I see a red flag when an instructor is more interested in selling their background and less interested in selling the quality of their classes.

If someone is stuck talking about how awesome they are and not what their courses will teach you, they are likely more invested in their reputation than their instruction.

2. Doesn’t Demonstrate

Demonstrating, or demoing, is the act of an instructor telling you something to do and then showing you how to do it. Sometimes this is an absolute must.

Loading a Mossberg 590 retrograde shotgun.

If you are teaching a particular technique, say port loading a shotgun from a side saddle. Verbalizing how to properly do so is important, but every one of your students is likely going to take those verbal instructions differently.

A demonstration of the technique gets the point across clearly and consistently.

Demos should include live fire as well as classroom demonstrations. If an instructor doesn’t demonstrate what they are teaching, it says they don’t know how to do it and are merely parroting something they’ve read or heard.

Best case scenario, they are just lazy, and laziness isn’t something I’d want to reward with my hard-earned money.

3. No Medical Plan Or First Aid

Every instruction class involving firearms should have a short segment at the beginning of the class. This admin portion is where we go over some very basic things like the schedule, location of the bathrooms, introductions, and a medical or emergency plan.

Mountain Man Medical Yellowstone
Medical preparations are a must, even if you trust things to go smoothly.

If an instructor doesn’t have a basic medical plan that they share with every student on the range, then that is a major red flag. That means they haven’t even formed a basic outline for emergencies.

This tells me this instructor is inexperienced and doesn’t understand that when firearms mix with people, an inherent danger is always present, and that needs to be taken seriously.

4. Teaching Classes Above Their Skill Level

If a basic pistol instructor is trying to teach you team tactics or running a shoot house, then we have another major red flag.

Instructing and teaching firearms requires a certain degree of experience, not only with firearms but with safety, instructing, range management, and more.

I have trouble believing someone with a single certification could safely run a complicated course.

Additionally, what kind of instruction will you get out of that course? Is it even worth paying for?

Crimson Trace RAD Max Shoot House

When you find that killer deal on Groupon for a shoot house experience, it’s worth looking at who is instructing it and their qualifications.

The same goes for any course involving any form of shooting and movement, advanced long-range shooting, team tactics, etc.

5. Loose Safety Standards

The gun community has no chill when it comes to firearm safety, and I love it.

Seeing a ridiculous instructor mocked online for unsafe practices is one of the best forms of self-policing we have.

If you google Worlds Worst Firearm’s instructor, who pops up? Voda, why? Because his safety standards were loose.

Instruction like this is never okay.

Guns are deadly items in the hands of people, so strict adherence to safety is an absolute must-have.

Any instructor who plays fast and loose with established safety standards is one to avoid. Since many instructors post online, it’s easy to see safety standards or the lack thereof.

You watch for obvious safety flaws, like do they have students downrange during live fire like some weird Spetsnaz confidence test? Is the instructor conscious of their muzzle orientation? Is anyone getting flagged, or is an inert firearm being used? How is the range conducted?

Checking for Empty Chamber
You’d be surprised how many “instructors” fail to do simple steps such as checking for an empty chamber.

A big part of safety is an instructor’s span of control.

How many students are in each class? Larger classes can be safely conducted if you have additional instructors to help ensure safety and class standards are met.

6. My Way Is The Only Way

There can be red flags with competent instructors as well as incompetent instructors. One of the universal red flags is related to how someone teaches.

3. Crimson Trace RAD Pro Gunsite Class Range

Someone can be an excellent shooter, have safety nailed down, and run a competent class. However, a good instructor should be able to work with any student to make them better.

If your instructor believes that the specific way they do something is the only way to do something, then that’s a huge red flag. When an instructor isn’t flexible enough to teach multiple acceptable methods, then they aren’t a great instructor.

Appendix Carry, HHH with EMP
If someone speaks in absolutes and says your gun or setup is not suitable, take it with a grain of salt before assuming you are wrong.

Appendix carry is great, but it’s not for everyone. Glocks are great, but so is CZ. If a shooter is making solid hits, then maybe a little shoulder hunch isn’t a bad thing.

An instructor should be able to accept that a shooter can meet their standards by doing things a different way.

7. Doesn’t Have Standards

Speaking of standards, does your instructor have any? Do they use a measurable, objective standard that allows you to see your improvement and track your progress?

Standards might not be met by every shooter at the end of the class. That’s okay because some standards are strict.

However, you should see some form of improvement from the beginning of the class to the end.

Clearly defined standards also allow instructors to measure the progress of growth of their students and themselves. Are their students successfully improving in accordance with standards?

Whether it is shot timers, measuring groups, analyzing video footage, or other methods, being able to quantify your results is important.

If not, then the instructor should recognize their own weaknesses and their ability to instruct.

No standards means no way to see if you are improving, which means no way to tell if the class was worth it.

8. Their Resume

What should be on an instructor’s resume? Well, it really depends on what they are trying to teach you. What training do they have? What makes them capable of instructing?

An instructor should either post or explain their resume to you.

USCCA Proving Ground, Aftermath

I like to see a decent bio, and I look for military or police service with an instructional background (NRA, USCCA), USPSA/IDPA ratings, instructor development courses, and training with other well-known instructors.

A solid resume showing a history of training and a good level of experience with firearms is a good sign of a trustworthy instructor.

In addition to trigger time you should be getting training in handgun retention and force-on-force. Be a well-rounded shooter, not just some guy who punches holes in paper while standing still on a firing line.
Massad Ayood is an example of someone with a solid resume and a lot of experience backing his instruction.

Not every class requires a diverse resume, but specific classes taught should align with their resume.

Final Thoughts

Finding a good instructor isn’t too tough.

There are tons and tons of good ones out there with a wide swathe of knowledge. It’s honestly one of the best times to be a gun owner, and the amount of instruction we have available is amazing.

Crimson Trace RAD Pro Gunsite Class
Crimson Trace RAD Pro Gunsite Class

Of course, we always have the underqualified and unsafe that are always willing to take money from your pockets and put it in theirs. But hopefully, we’ve helped you identify a few red flags to look out for.

Let us know in the comments below what red flags you watch for when choosing instructors! Need more tips on classes? Check out our guide to Gun Training: How to Choose Your First Class.

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5 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Dr. Gregory A. Jones

    As I certified instructor of ccw and defensive hand gun classes. I see so many "hacks" out here teaching. I first, wonder how they became certified to teach and secondly, why anyone would use them to train. Thank you for this article. I wish you could find a way to makes this more open to the general public.

    April 7, 2023 1:33 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Is that Brandon Herrera on the Left side of the final Picture

    March 30, 2023 10:07 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Sure is!

      March 30, 2023 1:09 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bull o' the Woods

    Along this line, Karl Rehn and John Daub of KR Training down in Texas have published a wonderful book (available at Amazon) called "Strategies and Standards for Defensive Handgun Training." They have really put a lot of thought into what to teach and how to teach it. This book will change your perspective on training.

    March 29, 2023 8:52 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Karl Rehn

      Thanks! People can also order signed copies of the book direct from us at the KR Training website. The 2023 updated version was just released last week, with 40+ pages of new information...including a section on how to assess an instructor's background that goes into more detail than this excellent article does. Similar ideas, just longer format.

      March 31, 2023 9:56 am
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