TCOLE Firearms Instructor Course

I recently hosted and attended a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Firearms Instructor Course taught by Eric Wise of Cornerstone Performance. Eric is a full time law enforcement instructor with a major Texas city’s police department, and a competition shooter with Master and Grand Master ratings in IDPA, USPSA and Steel Challenge.

Eric Lamberson from Sensible Self Defense attended the course and posted a very comprehensive after-action report. I encourage you to go read his before reading the remainder of my post.

The TCOLE firearms instructor certification is a 40 hour course, and completion of a separate 40 hour TCOLE Basic Instructor Course is required. The Basic Instructor course teaches you how to teach, how to write lesson plans, how to do classroom presentations, how to write exams, and other skills applicable to teaching any topic. The firearms instructor course is intended to train someone that is a good (or preferably, better than good) shooter to teach the handgun and shotgun skills typically taught in a standard police academy to cadets, or provide in service training.

TCOLE has a list of requirements that the course has to include, including a course of fire that applicants have to pass. We ended up with 8 students in the class, including active duty officers from Austin, Bryan, and Bandera, a retired Federal agent and two private sector trainers (Eric L. and me.) Technically I was the only never-commissioned person in the course, as Eric L had been an law enforcement officer for a short period before his military service. TCOLE does have a provision that allows non-sworn personnel to become certified as firearms trainers, if they have been active firearms instructors for 3 or more years and can provide proof, and they take the 40 hour Basic Instructor Training. I had taken the TCOLE basic course more than a decade ago prior to going to work for TEEX as a training manager on their DHS contract.

Day 1

On day 1, Eric gave us a binder that had 10 different drills in it. The drills are taught in sequence, and each focuses on a different aspect of shooting, from basic untimed marksmanship to detailed understanding of trigger control and in depth understanding of how sight picture and shooting speed relate to targets at varying distances or sizes. He taught us each drill, shooting demos to show us how he expected the drill to be shown (and at what speed), and we were students for the first day.

The Sight Deviation Drill

The NRA includes a version of this drill in their pistol curriculum, but I like Eric’s modified version of it better. Before class he used some color copies of his sight picture training aid (which he provided to us) to make three demo targets, each showing the sight picture he would use to shoot 3 shot groups at 3, 5 and 7 yards. He explained that his rule for “acceptable accuracy” was to keep all shots inside the 8″ circle of the IDPA target. Then he demoed the drill, placing groups of 3 shots very close together at each distance and for each sight picture, for a total of 3 shots * 3 distances * 3 sight pictures = 27 rounds fired.

You have to be a very good shooter capable of shooting quarter sized groups at 7 yards to demo this drill effectively.

Here’s some video of Eric explaining the results to students in a May 2023 class he taught at KR Training.

Day 2

On Day 2 instructor trainees were required to come with two drills: one they invented and one they got from another trainer, and be prepared to explain the drills, demonstrate the drill, and run a firing line through the drill. All the drills had to low round count with very few strings. For my “got it elsewhere” drill I used the live/empty shot pairs exercise I learned in a SIG Academy class (which was identical to the live/dummy drill I learned at the Rogers school years prior, but was easier to run without dummy rounds), and for my “created it yourself” drill, I used our 16x16x16 drill.

Everyone in class was a very proficient shooter, with class scores and times on the different drills very close. This was great to see, as cops often get maligned by gun hobbyists and private sector training junkies and competition shooters as not being good at shooting. As this quick video shows, Eric would set the standard on his demos, and we all tried to match his speed and accuracy.

Another common complaint is that the techniques and ideas taught inside the law enforcement bubble often lag behind what is considered best and most up to date within the private sector training community. As a USPSA competitor and a graduate of many private sector courses, Eric’s material was very solid. He did a great job explaining his thoughts on technique issues such as muzzle angle for a ready position, slide and slide lock manipulation on reloads, and plenty of other topics. The goal was to share his insights from teaching thousands of officers of varying sizes, experience levels (particularly in the academy) and physical abilities.

Days 3 and 4

Another drill we shot on day 3 was the “dirty-target shot-calling” exercise. I hadn’t seen this drill before. The idea is this: you take a shot up target and put it in front of a clean target. Then from a distance far enough back that you can’t really see new holes appearing on the target (we shot this from 15 and 25 yards), you shoot a 5 shot group, making notes and calling each shot as you fire it.

To see what you actually did, you have to go to the back of the two target stack which will show you only the holes from your shots. The motivation for this drill is that if you start with a clean target, particularly for dot shooters using pure target focus, the temptation to ‘call’ based on new holes, vs. what you saw from the sights or dot when the shot broke, is reduced.

Day 3 completed all the trainees running drills, the shotgun instruction (which was mostly shooting buckshot and slugs from 5-15 yards), and some of the TCOLE-mandated lecture content. The most interesting part of that, to me, was the rules for what was had to be included when developing a qualification course of fire for a department or agency. Some flexibility is given, but certain common factors have to be included, such as total round count (50 rounds) and sections from 3-25 yards and at least one timed reload.

Day 4 included Eric’s presentation of the red dot pistol curriculum currently being taught by his agency. Under previous chief, every officer was issued a S&W M&P in 9mm. Under current leadership, all those guns are being updated to have an Aimpoint ACRO 2.0 (closed emitter) red dot sight, so 100% of officers will be using red dot sights. While he could not release specific data, he indicated that qualification scores had improved with the change to red dot sights. Because every officer was attending a transition class, where the drills we had shot on Monday were included, it’s very likely that some of the improvement was a result of what was learned from the drills, not just the red dot sight itself.

Day 4 ended with teaching assignments. Each of the instructor trainees were assigned a drill, from the 10 drills we shot on Monday, to present, demo and run during the class the next day.

Day 5 – Real Students

Day 5 was a Saturday, and because the course content of Eric’s 10 drills paralleled the material KR Training presents in our Handgun Beyond Basics class, I advertised the open enrollment course as a session of our “Beyond Basics” (required to earn our Defensive Pistol Skills Program challenge coin), offered free slots to Lee County law enforcement, and offered discounted slots to previous Beyond Basics graduates to attract a good crowd of real students for the instructors-in-training to teach.

We ended up with a full class of 16 students, being trained by 8 instructors-in-training, all supervised by Eric. To make it easy to tell student from teacher, the instructors wore the reflective vests. Most drills were run with a relay of 8, so each student had their own individual coach for every drill, and got coached by each of the trainees.

Because we had more drills (10) than instructors in training (8), students also got instruction from Eric for the last drills of the day.

We saw lots of improvement from the students that attended, particularly those that had just completed our Basic Pistol 1 and Basic Pistol 2 classes within the last month, who got introduced to many higher level concepts and more challenging drills past the state carry permit level.

I really enjoyed the course. It’s always fun to be a student in the classes I host. We shot 1200 rounds during the first 4 days, and being with a group of very good shooters that all pushed each other to do well was the best kind of performance pressure. During the red dot training day one of the last drills we did was a walkback starting at 25 yards, shooting a Pepper Popper I had locked in the upright position. We moved back to 50 yards, then 75 yards, and finally 100, where everyone in class was able to hit it at least 3 out of 5 times.

KR Training will be hosting other classes offered by Cornerstone Performance in 2024.

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