TacCon 2019 part 1

The 2019 Rangemaster Tactical Conference was held at the Nolatac Training Facility in New Orleans, March 15-17. I’ve been a part of this conference every year since the early 2000’s, presenting training at 17 of the past 21 events. This is part one of a series of posts summarizing the sessions I attended and observed, and my experiences shooting the match.

History of the National Tactical Invitational

Each year after the conference is over, the Rangemaster staff survey the attendees to get recommendations for trainers and sessions they would like to see in the next year’s event. “History of the NTI” was one of my recommendations. The National Tactical Invitational (NTI) was not a widely publicized event, but the influence it had on those that attended, and the innovative ideas that were tested and developed there, are an important part of the story of evolution of defensive handgun training. Many elements of the Rangemaster Tactical Conference were inspired by the NTI, and most that were part of the NTI consider the Rangemaster event to be carrying on the NTI’s legacy.

The session was presented by Skip Gochenour, who was the event organizer for most of its 20 year history.

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, IPSC/USPSA competition was in peak “equipment race”. The single stack .45 ACP 1911’s and leather holsters used at the start of the 1980s were replaced by higher capacity .38 super pistols, with compensators and red dot sights, drawn from plastic competition holsters unsuitable for practical concealed carry use. Many that had shot IPSC matches for their value as defensive pistol training drifted away from the sport. Also during the 1980s, many defensive pistol schools were established. Some schools had close ties to the Gunsite/Cooper/IPSC community, others did not and taught curriculum that was rooted in pre-Gunsite law enforcement training, or techniques that the instructors had developed themselves.

In 1991, the first NTI was held. One of its goals was to run scenarios to test the training (and trainers) of the defensive pistol academies. The event was truly an “invitational”: those that wanted to attend had to submit a resume listing their credentials and training history. As a result, the event was not widely advertised beyond the alumni contact lists of the schools and trainers that were invited by the event organizers.

The event was not a competition in the traditional sense. It was presented as a training exercise, where each practitioner’s skills were evaluated both with a score and by team members who looked at more difficult to quantify elements such as tactics and awareness and communication. Score cards were detailed, and most scores were not posted. In some years a top 5 list was identified, but the intent was not to create another shooting sport.

The match was a “shoot what you carry” event. Each person was inspected before each stage to ensure that they had the same gear they had declared on their card.

The live fire stages were different from IPSC/USPSA events. 3D reactive targets were used. The event was run as a “hot” range (all guns were always loaded), and some stages required engaging targets that appeared behind the shooter as they moved through a building set into a 360 degree berm. Stage descriptions were not posted in advance, shooters were not allowed to see the stages before shooting them.

The NTI team developed several variations on reactive 3D targets that could be engaged from any angle.

In 1998 several articles were written about that year’s event – by Lyn Bates for Women and Guns magazine, and John Farnam for his alumni newsletter.

The most unique element of the NTI was called the “Village”. The NTI team were pioneers in incorporating force on force scenarios into the event. This evolved into a 60-90 minute session each practitioner would spend in the Village, interacting with roleplayers performing mundane daily tasks. Many of these assignments resulted in no drama, no drawing of guns, no criminal attacks…just like real life. The way to win in the Village was to use awareness, movement, tactics and communication to avoid any use of force situations…just like real life. If a use of force incident occurred, the Sheriff (Vicki Farnam) was called, and the event treated like a real incident would be.

Participants were evaluated using a complex form.

Tom wrote about his experiences in the 2009 NTI in Concealed Carry magazine.

The key to the success of the NTI was a team of up to 50 people who met multiple days a week, and one Saturday each month, as a study group. This group invested the time and effort to develop innovative targets, build complex stages, become skilled role players and evaluators.

The last NTI was in 2011 – the 20th year. Running a event of that scale for 20 years was a significant accomplishment, particularly given the complexity of the live fire stages and the Village. Skip’s closing slide summarized what 20 years of the NTI taught the team. (VCA = Violent Criminal Actor, MFG = Master Firing Grip)

When the Rangemaster conference began, the live fire stages were modeled on the NTI format: surprise/secret stages using 3D reactive targets that had to fall to score. I enjoyed that format, as it provided a test unavailable at any other event. When the event was run at facilities with indoor ranges, it was possible to restrict access to the range area and prevent attendees from seeing the stages in advance. Over the past decade, the match format has changed to be a more traditional test of marksmanship – still challenging, but in a different way. In the early years of the Rangemaster Conference, I ran force on force scenarios involving multiple participants. In recent years Craig Douglas has carried on that tradition – from the Village to my scenarios to his Experiential Learning Lab sessions. The force on force/live action scenario component is one way the Rangemaster Conference carries on the work began with the NTI.