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Concealed Handgun Fundamentals USCCA/Valhalla Firearms Training Experience

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The only photo I took at the USCCA/Valahalle Firearms Training Class. I was there to be a student.
The only photo I took at the USCCA/Valahalle Firearms Training Class. I was there to be a student.

In an effort to continue sharing my lessons learned and experiences in training this piece will share a bit from the one day Concealed Handgun Fundamentals course put on by USCCA and Valhalla Firearms Training in Cottage Grove, OR. This is not a review of that course as I was there purely as a student, but will share my gear choices and how they performed as well as some personal development notes from the class.


What Was It?

Course Description: "Our Concealed Handgun Fundamentals course is an intermediate Pistol course focused on advanced fundamentals including red dot usage, building an effective grip to withstand high rate of fire while maintaining accuracy, and efficient draw mechanics from concealment to support rapid target acquisition. The course also includes on gunfighting techniques centered in using cover and barriers in conjunction with movement while shooting to become a more effective and lethal defender of the urban environment while operating a pistol from concealed carry. "

Gear Required:

  • Ammunition - 500

  • Long Pants

  • Handgun

  • Water / Beverage

  • Lunch

  • Rain Gear

  • Extra Magazines - 3

  • Holster

  • Eye & Ear Protection

Graham's Considerations

I wanted this to be a personal-development and education experience. After spending more than 50 full days in serious courses around the country I've yet to not discover or learn something new at each training opportunity. Even when taking the same course multiple times I change guns, holsters, hands, or try to sharpen what I already know.

This course presented a unique conundrum for me; it's based on using a dot and is for concealed carry. I don't carry a dot, but am not opposed to using one on the range and am always open to new/more experience. My problem was that none of my dotted handguns were appropriate for carry and I wasn't about to be "that guy" and show up with a range toy or competition gun stuffed in my pants. Had I commited to the class earlier I might have made it to the range to mount and zero a dot on one of my carry guns, but I didn't.

Gear Used and Results

Handun: selection for a training course is sometimes a choice between bringing an easy gun so you can focus on corriculum and bringing that super-compact gun you love to carry knowing full well loading the magazines, controlling recoil, etc will be more challenging. Fortunately I decided long ago that I'd rather dress around a gun I know I can perform with than potentially compromise performance during a life-altering event with a gun that's easier to carry but tougher to shoot. As a compromise for the above-listed considerations I brought the Tisas B9R 1911 DS Carry with a Viridian RFX 11 as well as my normal cool-weather carry the BUL Armory SAS II TAC 4.25.


Tisas B91 1911 DS Carry
Tisas B91 1911 DS Carry

The Tisas B9R 1911 DS Carry performed just fine. The trigger and basic handling was of course not as smooth as the BUL Armory, but was runable. The other perk to the Tisas was being able to run the affordable DuraMags I had from the Springfield Armory Prodigy. I was a little concerned that I might have problems due to my ammo selection (more on that below) but the Tisas chomped through it all without issue. I ran this gun for about half the course, only stopped because of the dot (more on that below). The trigger might have held me back a little on speed, but that's a training issue that I likely could have overcome by the end of the day

BUL Armory SAS II TAC 4.25
BUL Armory SAS II TAC 4.25

After switching to the BUL Armory SAS II TAC 4.25 I lost the benefits of trianing with a dot (because one wasn't mounted), but my shooting improved. This was in part because I was more familiar with the gun, but the crisper trigger and lighter weight made my draw-to-shot times better. The BUL Armory also ran without issue with the ammunition I brought.


Tisas B9R 1911 DS Carry w/ Viridian RFX 11
Tisas B9R 1911 DS Carry w/ Viridian RFX 11

Dot: I'm a fan of Viridian optics, but not the RFX 11. Unfortunately that was the dot that fit, was mounted and zeroed so I went with it. My hopes were that the course could help me learn to appreciate it. If all the other Viridian dots are great, why can't the RFX 11? My initial dislike is from the auto-brightness. I learned at Thunder Ranch of the potential defensive-use issues with auto-brightness dots, and on the range, for my taste, they tend to error on the "too bright" side. Although I understand the appeal of a compact optic either for concealed carry discreetness or when the slide is simply too small for a larger dot, but I simply don't like them.

In the morning hours of the course the dot started to randomly change brightness during strings of fire, then disappear, then come back. Fortunately the dot cowitnesses on the Tisas so I was able to use my irons, but alternating shot to shot between dot and irons was not fun. It might have been rain obscuring the sensor. When the rain drops started partially obscuring the window on top of that I decided to retire the Tisas and swap to the BUL Armory. Fortunately they fit the same holster. It may not have been a failure of the RFX11 as much as of the battery, but my iron sights don't require a battery to function. I will replace the battery, re-zero the dot, and then decide if it was a mechanical/electric failure of the dot or the battery giving out.


Sterling 115gr FMJ
Sterling 115gr FMJ

Ammunition: If you've seen the deep-dive comparison I've done of 23 different 9mm 115gr FMJ range loads you likely saw that muzzle energy can vary by more than 30% from one load to another. That is not an insignificant amount. For working on speed you may want to try a softer load. If you know your grip might be a little weak a hotter load with more muzzle energy is going ot help cycle the gun, force you to hold on, and help push through fouling during high-round-count training. What I had in bulk and ready to go was THE softest-shooting load tested, Sterling Brass ($299 / 1000rds as of the date this was written).

My concern was that I hadn't run this in the Tisas before, and with the factory fitment of the Tisas I didn't know if it was going to run well. Fortunately the What's For Dinner™ test served me well and even with just 297 ft/lbs of energy it ran. The only downfall was that soft load resulted in a gentle ejection to about my 4 o'clock, right onto who ever was shooting next to me.


Tier 1 Concealed OWB Holster
Tier 1 Concealed OWB Holster

Holster: I somehow misplaced my IWB holster for the BUL Armory SAS II TAC 4.25 (and am greatly disturbed by this). Fortunately when I ordered it from Tier 1 Concealed I also ordered an OWB. With weather in the 50's and light rain off an on I ran the entire class with a light rain jacket and so was still able to practice drawing from concealment, just not the same draw as I'd have with my now-missing holster. I transitioned to the SAS II UL 3.25 when Oregon had its false-spring a month ago, but have a gun-specific IWB holster for it which is too short for the longer-barreled Tisas and BUL Armory.

The Tier 1 Concealed OWB It fit both guns and worked well, but as an OWB holster meant for conclement held the guns higher than I was accustomed to. I whacked my fingers pretty well a couple of times while clearing my garment. Again a training experience.

EDC BeltCo's Foundation Belt
EDC BeltCo's Foundation Belt

Belt: As I've worn for several years now, EDC BeltCo was great. I've been wearing a Foundation belt since they first became available years ago (now on my second belt) and use it as my everyday belt, even on the days I don't carry a gun. Speaking of days without a gun one of the things I love about this belt is that I've worn it through security at airports across the US and Europe without issue. This is especially appreciated if you're like me and wear pants sized to carry a gun, making disarmed days awkward, particularly if you have to remove your belt. Not a problem with the Foundation belt. I keep it on for the whole journey.

No one's ever said anything, but I'm sure everyone else in the TSA line appreciates one less thing they have to wait for me to doff and don. These belts are flexible where they need to be and reinforced for gun use where they need to be. The result is a belt that is both strong enough to draw from and flexible enough to be comfortable all day. That's why I've worn this belt exclusively and daily for several years including at multiple training events. Besides, what good is a "range belt" for your EDC? Are you going to wear that super-thick-and-stiff belt when you go shopping?


Eye and Ear Protection: As you may have noticed in recent videos, I've been trying out some new stuff from WarBird. Yes, I have had long-trusted eye and ear protection over the years, but I've also noticed that these are two areas where advancements quietly happen, so when I new company comes about I'm not afraid to give them a try, especially since eye and ear protection are items that wear out in time.

Fusillade with smoke lens from WarBird
Fusillade with smoke lens from WarBird

Eyes: I've got a pair of the "Fusillade" model with smoke lenses. While frame styling is a matter of personal preference, I've been very impressed with how lightweight these are (no fatigue or sore spots after hours of use) and believe that's also in part thanks to the flexible ear pieces which were not uncomfortable under ear muffs. We all have our tint preferences, but WarBird's smoke has really impressed me with its performance not just in full sun, but also when Oregon does it's thing. In the past "smoke" lenses from Oakley, Gatorz, ESS, and others have all proven a bit too dark under overcast and forced me to switch to a different lens. So far with WarBird that's not been an issue. Maybe that's my aging eyes just not seeing anything well, maybe WarBird has figured out how to tint a lens without ruining image quality.


Intrepid RC from WarBird
Intrepid RC from WarBird

Ears: I've been wearing Intrepid RC from WarBird for the last few weeks and was curious how they'd feel in a seven-hour class. I love my custom scanned and molded N-Ear ear protection, but they're not electronic and so not the greatest for a class like this. The Intrepid RC didn't let me down, providing clear audio of my sorroundings, but protecting my ears from dangerous volumes. I wish the gel pads were a little thicker, but at least they come with gel pads instead of requiring an upgrade like so many other sets of electronic hearing protection. The factory setting of audio enhancement is a bit high for me, but a single press on the volume button brings it down to what I normally hear.


Personal Growth/Lessons Learned

Without giving away too much about the course itself, there were a few things I personally gained from attending.

Trapping the Trigger: I had long been told to, and long shot from reset. That means trapping the trigger to the rear through the shot, then lightly releasing pressure untl the reset and firing again from there. At the Guardian Conference one of the instructors was particularly against this, but it was just for a two-hour block out of a three-day event and so unfortunately my brain dumped it shortly after the event. This time I was reminded of it and able to practice NOT shooting from reset for the full day. My discovery was that I do indeed shoot faster and a bit more accurate if I let off the trigger and pull again from the start. I imagine this revelation is a bit like a DA/SA shooter learning the simplicity of a basic striker-fired trigger. The one disclaimer I have to this is that the BUL Armory SAS II TAC 4.25 has a GREAT trigger that made such a trigger pull very easy and predictable. It'll take more time with more guns to know if this is a general principle.

Dots still haven't convinced me: They're great for simplifying sight picture, and by doing so can compensate. Dots also allow us to focus on the threat which we all know is what will likely happen mentally during a defensive scenario, BUT... The dot I was using caused issues. That may be personal preference, and may have been the battery dying, but my irons had no issues in the weather and don't require a battery.

Ignoring other dot issues that other students had, the most important lesson gained WAS sight picture. As an iron-sight shooter I was on my sights quicker than those who had to wait for more of their grip to form to bring the dot into view. I'm talking about from the draw, getting on target and building a grip at the same time. This could be literally vital in a defensive shoting scenario IF you're so much of a shooter that you want a good sight picture before shooting (ie. VERY close range). If you're not so concerned about sight picture for a quick-and-close target then sighting system doesn't matter at all. Competitive shooting proved dot sights to be an advantage years before they became mainstream, but I'm starting to wonder: While dots can help newer shooters, is it not until you're a high-level competition shooter that they become truly quicker from the draw than good training with irons?

The answer may be that no matter what your skill level is, there's no replacement for good training, and that's part of why I have continued to, and will continue to, train with every opportunity I get.


Conclusion: Train as often as you can, even if you think you're beyond what the course description says. It's often said that when the proverbial shit hits the fan you will fall to your lowest and most basic level of recent training, so why not ensure that "lowest level" is the best it can be? I was fortunate to have excellent training before I deployed to Afghanistan, and when I needed it, I found myself performing tasks and accomplishing them without even thinking to a level of profficency that got me through those fights to be here today.

Once again, I am not affiliated with USCCA in any way other than being a member, but I've recently discovered their network of instructors and training opportunities to be excellent, especially when you can't afford the time or money to make it to one of those "maybe someday" big-day schools that require vacation time and more expenses. Take a look at USCCA's in-person training opportunities and you may be surprised how many there are in your area that are more affordable and easier to get to than the big destination training experiences.


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Graham, red dot fail again. Perhaps, I may prove worthwhile to try one with an enclosed emitter with manual adjustments that allows you to set the level of brightness.

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I agree, I ran the RFX 11 to experience it, and because it was already mounted and zeroed.

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