This past weekend I attended one of the best training experiences I have ever been privy too. John Murphy has hosted Hardwired Tactical for the two-day First Responder Pistol class for the past several years. I have long wanted to attend this course but it never worked out previously. So, I registered for it early this year to make sure I locked it in on my calendar. I am glad that I did, because this course is absolutely fantastic.
Hardwired Tactical is a collaboration training enterprise between Darryl Bolke and Wayne Dobbs, both well-known and well-respected firearms trainers with deep backgrounds in law enforcement. They are legit, been-there-done-that, guys with plenty of their own war stories, but they base their training on a wide study of what works. I have never met either gentleman prior to this class, although I have followed both of them for a long time now, listening to their interviews and reading their articles. Unfortunately, due to logistics, Darryl Bolke was solo for this class and Wayne Dobbs was not present. I hope to meet and train with Wayne at some point in the future, but I assure you, Darryl really delivered in this class.
I can tell you that this is not a typical “shooting” class, although the fundamentals are reviewed and honed very efficiently. Rather, this is certainly a class that is designed to teach the participant how to practice for real-world violence. Pertaining to the shooting itself in the class, the best way I can describe it is as “high accountability, precise accuracy.” As Darryl emphasized throughout the weekend, all rounds that are fired hit something. A miss still hits something, and what it might hit could be very bad. Therefore, high accountability on everything.
Also of note regarding the shooting, Hardwired Tactical utilizes the B-8 target for almost everything. Why? Because, as explained, the 5.5” black of the B-8 is much more representative of the actual vital zones in the human body that can turn a human adversary off, quickly. There is, essentially, a vital zone in the high chest and one in the head that is the size of a small grapefruit and that is the realistic target. This is a beneficial change of mentality for a shooter like myself, who admittedly lives in the 8” circle of an IDPA target or the 6” by 11” rectangle of a USPSA target. Now, granted, the modern 4” head circle on an IDPA target, and modern small rectangle in the head of a USPSA target, are more relevant target sizes, but the A zones in the body of these targets are much larger than what is realistic in the human body. Therefore, Hardwired Tactical uses the B-8, placed on top of humanoid targets, to keep target size realistic. This results in the need for much more precise shooting than most shooters with any sort of competition influence are used too.
Day 1 started with a three-hour discussion and presentation. The class started a little after 8am and the shooting did not begin until about 11:30am. If that sounds like a bad thing to you, trust me, that first three hours is worth the price of admission alone. Darryl presented the safety brief that Hardwired Tactical is well-known for. This discussion, in itself, is the one thing that I wish every concealed carrier or gun owner could hear. Most safety briefs are only a quick review of the “four rules of gun safety” with a stern warning not to flag anyone on the range or you will get kicked out of the class. That is NOT what Hardwired Tactical presents.
Rather, this is the most in-depth presentation on the four safety rules and their relevance to every aspect of life with a firearm that I have ever heard presented in a single class. Darryl emphasizes the fact that every time you touch a gun you make a life, death, and financial decision. Think about that; every time you handle a firearm you can inflict grave bodily harm on others or on yourself and/or you can ruin yourself financially. Very true. Darryl bolsters this discussion with many real-world examples of people, particularly police officers, who had negligent discharges, sometimes with tragic consequences, due to a lack of muzzle discipline or lack of trigger finger discipline. He also spoke at length about the reactions of the human body when startled, when falling, etc…, that can trigger such negligent discharges if trigger finger discipline is not highly adhered to.
During the safety brief, and throughout the class, Darryl stressed the importance of staying with a muzzle direction that is truly as safe as possible in the circumstances. For example, high-ready positions with muzzles pointed upward are often not safe directions at all: what goes up must come down. He also stressed the unacceptability of muzzling non-threats and taught several skills in how to handle the gun so as not to muzzle innocent parties in any given environment. Darryl also covered the most useful and practical ready positions that can be used when the gun is out of the holster in a situation where force may be necessary.
Also presented in the morning lecture was a discussion on the combat triad, and the Hardwired Tactical philosophy on this is that the three corners of the triad need to be equal, and receive equal development, for a self-defender to be squared away. He also delved into many of the legalities of use of force. Also presented was the Hardwired Tactical acronym of SEE; See, evaluate, eliminate. This is the formula for reacting to and dealing with violence. And, as any good instructor who has truly tailored their craft to civilian self-defense should do, Darryl urged avoidance whenever possible as the best option and he made clear how life-changing the use of force typically is, thus being the last resort only if truly necessary.
The final thing I will mention about the information delivered on the first morning was the excellent presentation on target areas. Basically, the high-center chest or the brain box are the targets. The reality is, they are roughly the same size, but the chest shot simply gives more margin for error in the event of a slight miss of that target area, thus reducing the likelihood of stray rounds. This would account for why it is often the “go-to” target area in a response to an ambush as opposed to the head. Otherwise, the size of the targets is not drastically different. Darryl was clear that rounds placed outside of those precise regions are simply ineffective, most of the time, on a determined adversary who chooses to fight rather than flee or surrender. Darryl spoke at length about shooting at an assessment speed, so that you are not shooting so fast that you are not able to assess the inevitably changing situation.
Darryl also emphasized the tactic and skill of the failure drill, as after two precise rounds to the body are fired, if the head is still present, that is the logical target. An interesting detail he reinforced regarding this is that of public opinion and the ever-possible prosecution that can follow even the cleanest of shootings. What looks better, twelve rounds dumped into a perpetrator, or only two precise body rounds, or two precise body rounds followed by a precise headshot? Not only is such precision shooting better tactically, it is better in the legal aftermath as well. This point was supported through numerous examples presented. This is a lesson that I would like to see internalized by far more shooters and it is one of the best lessons derived from this excellent class.
Once on the range Darryl spent a couple hours getting shooting fundamentals dialed in and addressing any issues that he saw. The focus on precision shooting, often from a low ready, was emphasized throughout. The rest of the afternoon focused on honing accuracy for the realistic shooting task. Darryl presented some standard shooting fundamentals stuff, emphasizing trigger control and grip as it applies. We did a “wobble zone” drill that demonstrated the far greater importance of trigger control compared to sight alignment at close distances, and a few other things of that type. Darryl also covered malfunction clearance and reloads. A takeaway for me was his emphasis on tactical reloads with retention of the magazine. Again, backed up by a lot of real-world data, if there is no downside to doing it in a true break in the action, what is the downside of retaining your ammo? I admit that I never put much stock in reloads with retention, but Darryl changed my mind.
Day 2 started on the range, again, at 8am. We began shooting about 9:45. The first hour and a half or so of the class was taken up by another great block of discussion in which Darryl spoke to many of the dynamics of real violence, including a very enlightening explanation of the need to be able to go instantly from a shoot decision to a no-shoot decision. This is one reason that Darryl has always liked guns with “thinking triggers” such as DA/SA guns and revolvers, as the longer and heavier trigger can provide some more padding for such decision making. I have taken a lot of instruction where there is simply a “shoot decision” or a “no-shoot decision” and the shoot decision is usually address by an immediate draw to gunfire. After Darryl’s presentation on the realities of this it should be clear to anyone that things are hardly that black and white and always training to a draw and immediate fire is unsound.
The remainder of day 2 was packed full of great material. The morning was spent on accuracy focused shooting. For example, we did the “Super Test,” a shooting test that is Hardwired Tactical’ s own variation on the otherwise famous “The Test.” Also of Hardwired’s own concoction are the “two second standards.” Darryl had us run, individually on the timer set to a two second par, how many rounds we could place in the black of the B-8 at three yards. While we only did this at three yards in the class, Darryl suggests doing this at multiple distances to get a self-assessment of what you can do within that two second time frame, from a given distance, to that accuracy requirement. I can tell you that you won’t be doing sub-two-second bill drills to the B8 black at seven yards, the much smaller target area is a complete game changer and I think this assessment of your personal two-second standards is ingenious. Two seconds, as explained by Darryl, is a window of vital importance in most fights based on what the Hardwired guys have found through a lot of investigation into violence. Being able to terminate a threat within that time window is a winning strategy.
A real standout drill that Darryl had the class perform, one at a time, was his version of an El Presidente. In this version of the drill, however, you had to turn, engage the indicated threat targets with B-8 black accuracy, yet not sweep over or hit any no-shoot targets, which were changed around to surround the threat targets each time for each shooter, who did not see the target array until their turn to shoot. Even the reload must be conducted while not muzzling any non-threat target. This put things in perspective for the real world as sometimes the “workspace” in front of our face is not safe during real violence.
The remainder of the day was spent on an excellent introduction to shooting while moving, basic flashlight techniques, and retention shooting. Darryl offered some interesting modifications of shooting on the move that made things more relevant to what the civilian self-defender is likely to need. He provided an introduction to the most practical handheld light techniques, and we did live fire with lights in hand, although it was during daylight, but to introduce people to the techniques. The day ended with a presentation of, and live fire practice of, several retention shooting techniques. Shooting in low light and retention shooting are topics that warrant dedicated classes, but I think this class gives a great introduction to those skillsets.
In closing, I can’t begin to recommend this class enough. I have taken quite a few handgun classes and this is among the best. I think a student of defensive pistolcraft would be well served by this as even a first professional class, as long as you are competent working out of a holster and competent in safe gun handling. I think it works even better, though, as a second shooting class following a dedicated fundamental pistol skills class. Even though this class does a great overview of the fundamentals, it is primarily a class about the use of force with a pistol, and I think a student who is not struggling with the pure shooting fundamentals would get that much more out of it. However, it is great for anyone and I think it should be at the very top of your list, maybe even the top spot. You cannot go wrong with this one, consider it a must if you are a student of the defensive pistol.
A very nice and detailed AAR, Sal, and I agree there were lots of nuggets to mine. It was a pleasure being in the class with you – hope it happens again some time!
Thanks Tom, it was a great class and a great group as well. Nice meeting you.