AAR: Haley Strategic Adaptive Handgun 1, Gainesville, TX 30-Nov to 2-Dec, 2012
I haven’t seen any reviews of a Haley Strategic class posted on Pistol-Forum, so I wanted to throw this together so the company has an entry here. This is my first AAR (also my first formal class period), and I didn’t take notes during the class, so this is based purely from my recollections. You’re more than welcome to ask me any questions and I’ll answer as best I can.
Brief personal snippet so you can understand my viewpoint: I’m new to serious shooting, but have been around guns all my life. I’m a PhD student in computer science and tend to be very detail oriented. This is my first formal class, though I’ve seen and read an abundance of training material over the years. I also use a lot of subsections when writing, because I’m a nerd and that’s my thing.
(I assume most people reading this forum are familiar with Haley, but I’ll put this here for the sake of completeness.)
Travis Haley taught the class, with three range officers for assistance who periodically provided advice on the line. Haley is relatively high profile (at least as far as the training community goes), having been one of two instructors featured in the Magpul line of instruction videos, as well as appearing in some in / famous YouTube videos.
Haley served with USMC, with a lot of that time spent in their special operations community. He was also onboard with Blackwater in Iraq during (I think) 2004-2005 and is a sworn deputy sheriff (or maybe it was a state trooper…) in Colorado. He has a wealth of real-world experience with the grisly stories and macabre sense of humor that usually entails.
Travis left the Marine Corps vehemently anti-doctrine. There is zero “this is how I learned it, so this is how you do it” with Travis. The class was entirely based on leveraging what the body wants to instinctively do when naturally reacting to something, rather than attempting to reprogram it. Any techniques or procedures he explained in class were accompanied by an abundance of supporting rationale, as well as actual science when the science was available.
Travis is constantly tweaking and adding things, so while there was a lot of overlap between his Magpul videos, as well as the ones he did with Panteao Productions, there was new material as well. Most of the techniques covered in this class were very basic and periodically lacked the meticulous detail I like (e.g., he covered releasing the slide lock with your thumb, but didn’t go into strong hand thumb versus support hand thumb), but there were several brand new shooters and that kind of detail might have overwhelmed them. This was an introductory class so I think that was appropriate, and he would always provide more detail or his opinion if you asked him about it.
All-in-all, he spends a lot of time on the “why” as well as the “how” and I like that.
Red River Firearms hosted the class at their outdoor range. Red River says the range is in Gainesville, Texas, but it’s actually not: Gainesville is just the closest town that people can find, being on I-35 about an hour north of the D/FW airport.
The actual range is about a thirty-five to forty minute drive outside Gainesville on a privately owned farm. The class met at the recommended hotel and then convoyed to the farm (if we tried to find it ourselves, some of us would likely never be seen again). It’s not unusual for gun ranges to be in the middle of nowhere, but it does warrant mentioning that if something bad happens, you’re a while from help.
A friendly Vietnam veteran, who helped as one of the range officers, owns the farm. The range is nice: the portion of it we used had places for paper targets, as well as a number of steel targets and a pseudo-shoot house made of rock (more on that later). We only used one of the portions of the range, but it has several sites with steel and paper targets, as well as one length with targets set up 1700 meters away.
There are no buildings, little shade and seating provided via folded chairs. The temperature stayed in the upper-70s the entire time (this being “winter” in Texas), so we were mostly pretty comfortable. I would be hard pressed to take a course here during the summer, however: portions of the range are covered in gravel and there’s no cover from the sun. Training here in 100+ degree heat would be miserable.
The class had a mix of experienced shooters and near-total novices. There were fifteen people total, including a Texas Ranger SRT member, a sheriff’s deputy tac-team member and an active duty Marine. Everyone else was a civilian, and all but maybe three of us had either taken some kind of class before or were at least reasonably competent with a pistol.
Equipment used in the class seemed fairly standard: some kind of Glock or M&P in a kydex holster (Raven concealment, Bravo concealment, G-Code and a few others), as well as quite a few tac-lights attached. The tac-team guys used drop-leg holsters, and one relatively new shooter used a SERPA, which Travis allowed but did spend several minutes talking about the dangers of such and why they were probably not the best idea.
The first day was spent on the very basics: grip, sights, trigger press and basic re / loads. Towards the end of the day, drawing from the holster was also practiced, but not extensively. Keep in mind this is a course that’s meant to accommodate total beginners, so some of the info provided was pretty basic.
Travis breaks the fundamentals down into “feel, eyes, finger”. “Feel” being everything other than your sight and trigger press: stance, body position, hand position on the gun (both while draw / presentation as well as when shooting), et cetera. “Eyes” being sight alignment and details on how your eyes focus under stress. “Finger” being a smooth trigger pull to the rear of the gun. Haley’s philosophy is that one of these categories can be poor but you can still make a good shot if the other two are in place.
Travis is big on eliminating paths of least resistance. He really didn’t emphasize trigger control too much, other than saying slapping the trigger was bad. He repeatedly emphasized that some issues that are often interpreted as trigger control issues (i.e., shooting low and to the left) are often paths of least resistance issues. By making sure your support arm is fully extended, you’ve already removed some of the gun’s tendency to move left while being fired. This seemed to work very well for me.
We used Haley’s Feel / Eyes / Finger target, switching gears target, and CET targets, all of which are available off his website. We also started playing HORSE with ourselves, which the Feel / Eyes / Finger targets and switching gears targets are well suited for.
This was one area of the class where I would have liked some more detail. For instance, I know Travis advocates torqueing your fire control hand out (this was covered in one of the YouTube videos he made with Ron Avery – you can find it on the Haley Strategic blog) but he didn’t cover that. I’ve seen quite a few details about grip and so forth that he’s put in various videos, and I would have liked to have those covered in class. But again, this was an introductory class so I guess that was to be expected.
The second day we practiced basic movement, multiple targets and shooting around barricades. All exercises were fired from the holster. Travis is very big into “kinesthetic awareness” (he’s building a whole class series around it) which is basically being aware of what your body would like to naturally do and how best to work “with” yourself, so to speak. He mentioned some exercises to help with this, like doing squats with kettlebells off boso balance balls, which is something I’m going to try.
We practiced staying upright while leaning around corners, and the various ways you can raise, lower, and move your body position efficiently without losing your balance. His body positions were about maintaining balance while using minimal core strength, which also helps you move in and out of positions quickly. This would not be a good section of the class for people with bad knees, but I thought it was very interesting.
Shooting around barricades brings us back to the range’s pseudo-shoot house. There is an area of the range we used that’s modeled one side of a house (complete with windows, doorways and “doggy doors”), as well as two upright barricades to practice leaning around and one table to practice shooting over. This was a nice portion of the facility but it created some issues because it was made of solid rock.
The range’s owner used huge slabs of rock (which you can get to by digging a few feet down through soil in this part of the country) for everything but the targets. This was good in a way, because you could clearly see when bullets were hitting the rocks and it helps you get an idea of where your shots were going. This was not good for me because I had never shot around barricades and spent the entire time not wanting to fire a round into the slab that was an arm’s distance from my face. Travis had to get me to repeat the exercises because my focus was on where not to shoot rather than how to correctly perform the techniques. This felt a bit like being thrown in the deep end, at least for me at my skill level.
The third day was about shooting from supine, prone, on the move and more work on multiple targets. This day was primarily centered on one-on-one attention while various quirks were ironed out.
Shooting from supine and prone was less than pleasant, as this was a gravelly working range complete with horse manure and prickly purrs. We probably could have practiced more unorthodox positions, but I’m not sure anyone wanted to.
We also shot Haley’s CET for time and scored ourselves. CET starts from the holster and fires two rounds in two seconds or less from 3, 5, 10 and 15 meters. The final stage is firing five rounds in ten seconds or less at 25 meters. His advanced class scores 100 rounds, with each round outside the circle or over two seconds counting one point against you, with 100 points being the maximum score. We fired 50 rounds with each shot outside the circle or over two seconds counting two points against us. We had one-person score in the 90s, with the mean grade being in the low 80s.
Class wrapped up with an IPSC-style timed run on the steel targets. Certificates were awarded and I thought they were pretty neat: aluminum plaques with the Haley strategic logo and Travis’s signature, which we “signed” by shooting a one-inch dot centered over an AK-wielding silhouette, which the range’s Vietnam-veteran owner insisted looked like Ivan. Picking up brass and trying to find our way home in the darkness ended our three days.
There was a lot of downtime. Travis is planning on teaching more courses at this range, and this was his first trip there. The range owner would start showing him around when we’d start reloading magazines, and this would often turn into about a fifteen-minute wait for the class. This being his first trip to the range, he also had to figure out which pieces of his curriculum to cover where and how, since the range had a number of options available for any given segment. I doubt this would be an issue for subsequent classes.
The round count also seemed a little low for a three-day class. I didn’t keep strict track of rounds fired, but I’d estimate about 1000 to 1200. This was a beginner course, and it was winter so the days were shorter, but I would have liked to get in more shooting.
Travis is a great communicator and a great teacher. He’s very approachable, happy to answer questions and always backs up his thoughts with abundant rationale and supporting science when it’s available. I really like the way he deconstructs shooting into instinctive motions rather than trying to retrain your body to do something unnatural.
He takes the “adaptive” in “Adaptive Handgun” very seriously. There’s no “this way and only this way” – he shows you a set of techniques that will work and you’re free to choose the one that works best for you. He backs up the “how” with the “why”, and if you’re a detail-oriented person Travis is a good guy to talk to.
I think this was a great class for beginner and intermediate shooters. We focused on a solid foundation in both skill and knowledge, and I was very impressed with how receptive Haley was to new ideas and different opinions. I think Haley is dedicated to brining out the science of shooting, and I will definitely train with Haley Strategic in the future.
Again, I know this AAR lacked some gritty detail, but let me know if you have questions and I'll try and answer them.