The Life and Times of being a firearms instructor
Have you ever thought of becoming a certified firearms instructor for fun and profit? Well, as an instructor myself with about a decade behind me in the 'lead trade' I am here to share some ups and downs of the biz. Let me grab my soapbox, hold on.
Why do it?
When I was a lad still years away from shaving for the first time, I was given a rifle by my grandfather, a retired military vet who thought that it was about time that I learned the mystical secrets of personal marksmanship. He forgot more than I have ever learned, but never pointed that out as he took the time to pass on his tribal knowledge of these most manly of arts.
As I grew older and spent time as a hunter, shot on the rifle team in school, moved into adulthood and pursued jobs that brought me into contact with firearms on a daily basis, I found myself from time to time next to shooters who could benefit from a few pointers. When I could help them to make a better shot, to manipulate their firearm better so that it could save their life or put food on the table when needed, I felt a great sense of satisfaction.
That led to becoming first a Range Safety Officer, and then a certified instructor. To pay forward that same experience that I was lucky enough to have with my own tribal elder. Although I by and large teach as a full time profession for the past several years, I still give back by teaching Hunters Safety classes to kids and Concealed Carry classes to a number of civic and preparedness groups in my local area at no charge. Because it is not all about the money. Speaking of which...
Will you get rich?
With all of the above being said, many shooters become instructors for the allure of a fast buck. While I am not knocking these fellas, and there is some money to be made out there, it should not be the overriding reason for pursuing this trade.
Understand that with booming rates of gun sales, an ever-larger population, and an ever-increasing push to get training, the numbers of instructors are growing daily. CNN Money recently lists 'firearms instructor' as one of the 7 Hot Businesses to Start Now. This came after, in 2013, searches for "firearm instructors" tripled on Thumbtack.com, a site that connects more than 400,000 small businesses and freelancers with prospective customers.
Still, you have to provide the service that people are actually paying you for. I do not care whether you charge $1 a student or a $1,000, if you take the money: provide the training.
In Illinois recently, with the implementation of that state's new CCW requirements, an instructor began training students in the mandatory 16-hour class for that state. Well, according to reports, corners were cut, some of the class was done online (against the state police's instructions), etc., and long story short 327 people who paid $150 for training did not get their permits.
That's an example of the wrong type of instructor out there that damages the sport, the Second Amendment, themselves, and everyone they teach. Remember, what you trained them (or didn't) is going to stick with them the rest of their life.
Why not to become an instructor.
Reason number one: money. Just in case you skipped over the section above, if you want to be an instructor to get rich, find another trade. I have traveled the globe and worked contracts for a number of big name force protection companies guarding everything from federal buildings to bullion (bars not the soup) depositories to military bases and oil fields, all of whom paid well for me to train.
However, I am very, very, far away from being considered 'well off.' For this, I have traded entire weeks/months/years at a time from my life, saw my children grow up via email, and have been on the wrong side of friendly fire (which isn't) and ricochets on numerous occasions.
Its not worth the money. No, matter what they tell you.
Reason number two: attention. If you want to be the swagger guy; the tacticool guy slathered in 5.11 gear from head to foot and a giant beard, that's fine, but you don't need this to be an effective instructor. Some of the best instructors I've ever had were unassuming individuals who calmly made sense in their arguments, not beat on their chest and craved attention.
A few tips, all learned the hard-way
1. In becoming an instructor, spend some time reflecting on who you are and why you like to personally shoot. When you get away from this, you aren't true to yourself anymore. Once you figure out what you are good at, pursue your audience.
2. Don't fear becoming multi-talented as long as you are confident in your ability. There are multiple disciplines of shooting ranging from hunting to sports marksmanship to tactical and these vary from rifles to shotguns to handguns in a myriad of subtypes.
3. For what you want to pursue, consult a NRA Training Counselor, or IALEFI training academy (if law enforcement) to help work towards those goals. It's not going to happen overnight. Move slowly, ask lots of questions, never making assumptions in your training, and never stop your own training. I make it a point to take several instructor development and student level courses a year and I always learn something new. I have run into instructors that haven't taken a course in over twenty years. Don't be that guy who just knows that he knows everything.
4. Be humble.
5. Cover range safety multiple times and get a buy in from your students before the first round of ammunition is issued. If you only cover, the safety rules one time in training you have not covered them at all. Do this for every range even if you are running the same ranges for the same people for years. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen safety violations from experienced shooters who 'knew better.'
6. Have a plan for when everything goes pear shaped. Be sure there is a designated 911 person. A designated first responder. And secondaries for this as well. I have a full GSW kit that I bring to every range and make a point to tell my students that, "while I am the first responder to an accident, I also carry a sealed field bandage in this pocket" (and show it to them), "in case you need to use it on me. This graphic demonstration helps to focus the fact that there is fixing to be the very real possibility of injury in the very near future--, which tends to keep people on their toes. And by the way, if you are a firearms instructor and at a minimum not CPR/First Aide/Combat Life saver trained, you are playing with fire.
7. Finally, the most important job of an instructor is to encourage. If everything the student hears is negative reinforcement, grumbles, gruff, and bravado, then you have lost them. Possibly forever. Every shot is a chance for improvement. Every range visit is a chance for more shots.
Stepping down off the soapbox now.
Be safe out there.