(OR: Why I Felt Great About Shooting A 73 The Day After Gabe & Manny Shot Record-Setting Perfect 125’s)
It’s been said that overcoming adversity on the way to achieving your goals makes victory all the sweeter. In the case of Rogers, I could have used just a little less adversity… But earning a Basic rating on my first trip there, having taken no formal pistol instruction before attending, was sweet indeed.
I originally set out to construct an easy-to-follow narrative about my week at Rogers, but I kept getting self-conscious about how it ended up being all about me. In the interests of actually getting this finished and published, I’m going to deviate from the first-person travelogue format and instead share the most interesting stories, observations, and tips gleaned from my time there.
I was invited to join a private group of 18 shooters attending the Advanced course at Rogers Shooting School, virtually all of whom knew each other to some extent prior to April 2014. This group was, in the words of head instructor Ronnie Dodd at the end of our session, the best civilian group they’d ever seen come through — even with me holding down the tail end of the score curve, earning “only” a Basic rating with a 73/125 final score.
I was proud to be a part of the group, even if (at 42 years old) I occasionally felt like the dorky kid running flat out to keep up with the athletes. I knew going in that I’d be challenged to keep up, and I appreciate how incredibly motivating it was to shoot with folks so much better than me. The good thing is that feeling never lasted longer than my next conversation with one of the other folks in the group — you couldn’t ask for a better crew of folks to spend a week with in the crucible that is Rogers Shooting School.
 Note the “civilian” caveat — Rogers also has groups of elite commando types coming through to put a final polish on their pistol training, and it’d hardly be a fair comparison to measure us against a boat crew of active-duty SEALs working up for their next deployment. Unfair to the SEALs, that is, considering how Gabe and Manny both racked up runs that no milspec shooter has ever managed.
 I’ve been reliably informed that an American street cop who has been trained to meet LE standards would shoot a score in the 25-35 range. I’ve also heard that many if not most civilian classes have at least some shooters receive a participation certificate with no rating.
Most people spend a year or more getting ready to go to Rogers, given its deserved reputation as the top practical pistol shooting school in the world. My invite to join this class was the cause of a happy dance when I got an private message from GJM over at pistol-forum.com, but unfortunately for me, it left me only 3 months to go from “I’d sure like to go to Rogers someday” to “Holy Shiite Moslem, Batman, I’m actually at Rogers!”
First I got excited, then I got anxious about the timetable, then I bought the new pistol I’d been eyeing (a 9mm HK P30 LEM), then I ordered the first of many ammo shipments from Freedom Munitions. Deliveries of FM 9mm 147gr would continue to arrive like clockwork every two weeks right up until I headed to Rogers, and even then I had a shipment of 2500 rounds waiting for me at a friend’s house in Atlanta to use at Rogers.
The only thing that saved me is that at the time I got the invite, I had transitioned to working as a consultant, which only required my full attention three days per week. This left me with two weekdays and the weekend to train like a madman, and train I did. By April 2014, every staffer at Reed’s Indoor Range in Santa Clara CA knew me by name, as I was there at least twice per week for 2-3 hour sessions on the range. I was shooting up to 900 rounds/week not counting USPSA matches,which put me constantly at the ragged edge of over-training.
One thing I didn’t do: when I replaced the factory sights on my P30 with a Dawson Precision front and a 10-8 rear, I aligned them identically to the factory sights — but I completely failed to take the gun to a 25-yard range and sight it in properly. Remember this, it will be a factor in my performance at Rogers.
In case it’s not obvious, doing well at Rogers became my prime focus in life during Q1/2014. I was on a regular, structured schedule:
- Mon-Sun: Dry-fire holster work in the morning; dry-fire technique and accuracy work with LaserLyte system in the evening
- Mon/Wed/Fri: Consulting work during the day, CrossFit at 1730 rain or shine
- Tue/Thu: 2-3 hours of range time
- Sun/Thu: grip strength training with Captains Of Crush trainers
This worked great right until it didn’t. The planets aligned (badly) in mid-February and this happened:
- Sunday night: very heavy grip training with Captains Of Crush after 30-minute dry-fire session
- Monday: strict overhead barbell press PR (personal record) attempt day at CrossFit
- Tuesday: private instruction teaching one of my Crossfit coaches pistol fundamentals, then 400+ rounds over 3 hours
- Wednesday: overhead push press PR attempt day (yes, second overhead PR in one week) ends with my theoretically-stronger right arm unexpectedly collapsing after adding 5lb to previous lift
Long story short, I basically injured every tendon attaching in or near my right elbow. And I’m right handed and right-eye dominant. And Rogers was 8 weeks away. As the kids say on the Internet: FML.
Suddenly, Crossfit was “everything I can do without my right arm”, and I was shooting left-hand only. This was actually a Very Good Thing, as it led to me shooting over 1200 rounds with my left (non-dominant) hand only over the course of two-plus weeks of training. I can honestly say if I hadn’t spent two weeks shooting with exclusively with my non-dominant hand, I probably wouldn’t have earned my Basic rating at Rogers. So there’s that.
Therapeutic options that helped:
- Thera-band FlexBar recommended by trip organizer GJM, the FlexBar was the most effective self-managed therapy I found
- Additional stretches and exercises prescribed by physical therapist
- Regular exercise (i.e. CrossFit), scaled down to avoid injury but pushing hard enough to be uncomfortable
- Ibuprofen pretty much 24/7
- Corticosteroid injections, SIX of them, about three weeks before Rogers
Stuff that didn’t help, and likely delayed or reversed healing:
- RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) — this led to stiffness and slowed healing, because what tendons need is movement and blood flow
- Physical therapy — while I got short-lived relief from corticosteroids delivered by electrophoresis, it didn’t last, and as usual the electrostim treatment was 100% ineffective witch-doctor BS
- Shooting, even running a soft-shooting 9mm, without significant stretching/warmups first and stops to stretch & rest
At the end of the day, the only thing that got my tendon issues sufficiently squared away was treatment with injected corticosteroids. Six shots later, and a warning from my doctor that I had maxed out my cortisone quota for quite a while, and I was ready to rock. Even today, five months after the injury, I’m still recovering, but it’s 95% better.
Moral of the story: overuse injuries can sneak up on you, and going for personal records in weightlifting at Crossfit when your priority is Rogers is a Very Bad Idea.
After an all-too-brief overnight visit with a friend in Atlanta, I packed up the rather large ammo delivery he’d graciously accepted on my behalf and headed north towards Rogers Shooting school. First stop was dinner at an excellent local BBQ restaurant with my online friend Chief Deputy Lee Weems of Oconee County Sheriff’s Dept. It’s always interesting, and usually fun, to meet online friends in person for the first time and dinner with Lee was no exception.
Dinner highlights: Lee and I spotted two other guys who looked likely to be Rogers students. Turns out I was right — it was our two cops from Alaska. Fun fact: while Lee assumed that I was armed because he knew I carried AIWB, my friends from Alaska didn’t realize I was carrying until I told them later. Also, the BBQ baked beans at that place were the best I’ve ever had, and when I get a chance I’ll link to the restaurant here.
Gathering at the lodge: sorting out enrollment paperwork and collecting swag; a well-honed and fascinating lecture from Bill Rogers; and then upstairs to meet the instructors and do some dry-fire practice.
One of the highlights of my whole trip: a highly experienced SWAT officer (also: our senior instructor for the week) walks up to me while we’re getting ready for dry-fire, looks at me quizzically, then quietly asks if I’ve remembered to bring a gun. The look on his face when I drew my HK P30 from concealment was priceless. I don’t think he’d realized until then just how discreetly even a skinny guy like me could carry a full-size handgun with a top-of-the-line AIWB holster like my JM Custom Kydex model.
Pro-Tip: the lodge was ridiculously cheap, and I got to hang out a bunch with one of the Glock guys who runs GSSF (Chris), one of the best shooters in the world (Manny Bragg), and my roommate Chuck, an extremely serious competitive shooter — but all the cool kids stayed at the Best Western and ate better than we did. Don’t underestimate the after-hours social aspect to a week at Rogers, and stay where the majority of the other folks are staying. Next year, I will be at the Best Western.
The Shooting School
There are six doors (lanes) with up to three shooters per door. You will likely spend the best and worst hours of that year, or possibly that decade, standing in the door at Rogers facing down that target array.
You will be scored and ranked. Everyone will know your score and your rank in the class. I was the 17th-ranked shooter in a class of superstars throughout the week, something I’m not shamed to admit, which put me in door #5 all week. The nice part about the way they distribute shooters is that each lane will have someone from the top 6, someone from the middle 6, and someone from the lower ranks.
You will coach and score your teammates. Constantly. I’m pretty sure the only thing that earned me any credibility the first day or two was that I could coach very effectively, because my shooting sure as hell wasn’t that great.
The instructors at Rogers are fantastic. They want you to succeed. They will help you as much as you want, and as much as you need. If you have a question, an instructor is never more than a few seconds away. I can’t say enough good things about the crew at Rogers. (OK, there was one instructor, recently separated from the military, who most of our shooters didn’t care for. Luckily he came down with a cold and we didn’t see him for much of the week.)
Every day you shoot The Test, except on Thursday, when you shoot it twice. The Test consists of 9 separate courses of fire with a total of 125 possible points. You get 1 point every time you knock down an 8-inch steel pop-up target. Some of these targets are visible for as little as 0.5 seconds.
T1 is at 7yd. T2 is at 9yd. T3-T5 (“the wall”) is at 10yd. T6 is around 15yd, and T7 is out at 18yd. Those 8-inch round plates are pretty damn small when you get out past 10yd.
The Test, assuming you bring good shooting technique to the line, is equal parts “OMGWTF this is all happening so fast” and staying mentally in the game, 100.0% focused at all times.
DON’T go to Rogers to improve your fundamental shooting skills. You should be able to consistently clean a rack of 8-inch steel plates at 10yd before you sign up to go. Nobody in their right mind goes to the advanced class at Rogers with the primary goal of getting better at basic shooting skills.
DON’T go to Rogers to learn tactics or defensive skills. Those are not part of the program, nor should they be. There’s a whole set of stuff that wraps around the whole “time to shoot people in the head” problem-solving skill package, but Rogers is where you to get better exclusively at the effective-shooting component.
DO go to Rogers to get much, much faster at precisely shooting low-probability targets. Having been to Rogers, I can confidently say that if I decide to put rounds into anything (or anyone) within 35-40 feet, I can do so very quickly and accurately even if I have to engage multiple targets. At night, while I’m running the light/laser module on my gun, well… let’s just say that any threat within 25+ yards will be blinded by 600 lumens and receiving a serving of hot lead in very short order.
DO go to Rogers to make massive strides in the mental aspects of shooting under stress, from keeping your shit together when you get behind the curve on a rapid target sequence, to not losing your cool when you need to get your gun up and running after you screwed up a reload.
Having a migraine on your first (or any) day at Rogers is not a fun experience. I do not recommend it. It’s not good for your scores.
I started off running my HK P30 from concealed AIWB, but immediately found the flaw in that plan: I had ZERO time in practice drawing from AIWB strong-hand-only. Every single draw from AIWB I’d done before arriving at Rogers had used both hands, and Tests 5 & 6 both required drawing SHO. Oops. By Wednesday I simply started tucking my shirt behind my holster for the entire Test.
Remember what I said about not getting the sights on my P30 dialed in at 25yd? Yeah, well, it turns out my struggles with shooting to the left in training were mostly NOT issues with my technique — the gun was shooting a bit more than two inches left at 10yd. Yikes!
On a paper target, that’s not a huge problem. On an 8-inch steel plate, we need to consider the geometry. At 10yd, if I aim perfectly at the center of the plate, my shot would hit only 2″ from the edge. At 15yd, I would have less than a 1″ margin. And at 20yd, a perfect center hold would miss.
I missed a LOT of targets because of the misaligned sights on the P30. I missed plenty more from other errors, of course, but in retrospect I’m certain that I could have shot a score in the 80’s if not for the issues with the P30. Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t realize that my gun had POI/POA issues, and I blamed it all on myself. By the time Wednesday’s class was over, the ride back to lodge with Chris from Glock was pretty quiet as I was intensely frustrated and demoralized. However, I was determined to push through and overcome these obstacles.
Despite my gun not hitting at my point of aim, I somehow managed to rack up a 64 on Thursday’s two runs through The Test. Close to that 70 required for a Basic rating, but not quite good enough. It was at this point that I threw in the towel on the P30 and requested an M&P9 from the school armory. After class ended Thursday Ronnie Dodd personally picked out a fine example for me to use (fitted with the full set of Apex upgrades) and I did some dry-fire practice and got used to the Safariland ALS holster that came with it.
Thursday was also the day that Gabe and Manny shot perfect 125/125 scores on the exact same run. There was much celebrating, but I hardly noticed at the time as I was somewhat lost in my own head.
Friday morning brought lovely weather, and I was ready to go crush The Test. (Did I mention it was so cold one morning that we delayed starting by an hour so it wouldn’t be below freezing? Yeah, fun.) With a grand total of 20 minutes of familiarization fire and warm-up drills using the M&P9, I turned in a 74, which earned me the Basic rating that had been my goal.
And then, abruptly, it was over. We got our final scores and received our pins, took some last pictures, packed up and scattered to the four winds by noon on Friday. That night, I was home in California.
Was it worth it?
Rogers Shooting School was one of the most challenging and emotionally difficult experiences I’ve been through as an adult; Rogers cost me hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars… and it was absolutely worth it.
When you leave Rogers, you know exactly what you need to work on to get better, both in shooting techniques and mental skills. (That awareness fades, though — write down your thoughts on your areas for improvement ASAP after your session ends.)
I’m particularly proud of the fact that I went to Rogers and earned a Basic rating as a self-taught shooter using an unfamiliar gun. Having proven some point or another by doing that, I’m now signed up for a Frank Proctor “Way Of The Gun” class in August and will be taking a Hackathorn class at the earliest opportunity. (I’m still sad that I missed the opportunity to train with Louis Awerbuck before he left us.)
I find that I can’t be too hard on myself for the error with the sights on the P30. They were aligned exactly the same as the factory sights using a digital micrometer and referencing the central rib on the slide. More importantly, the extremely compressed schedule while preparing for Rogers didn’t leave me much opportunity to take a step back and say “hey, I should check these sights with a bench rest at 25yd even though every other HK I’ve owned has shot perfectly with this sight alignment”. (The P30 sights are squared away now. In case you were wondering. I’ll be doing the same for the new Dawson sights on the Glock 41 later this week at the 25yd line at Livermore-Pleasanton Rod & Gun.)
My only regrets are that I didn’t have more time to prepare so I could get more out of it, and that I didn’t spend nearly as much time hanging out with folks I only knew online due to the lodge-vs-Best-Western situation. That disappointment is balanced out by the friendship I’ve since struck up with JHC of pistol-forum, whom I sat next to at the group dinner & get-together. It all evens out.
Even now, just a few months after going to Rogers for the first time, anticipation of a trip in 2015 keeps me motivated to train and focused on the skills I know I need to improve. Going to Rogers does more than show you how much you have to improve — it gives you a glimpse of how much better it’s possible to be as a shooter.