Jim’s Nevada Adventure at Front Sight

Red Oxx co-owner Jim Markel’s background includes tours as a U.S. Marine, where he learned the rugged, precise art of parachute rigging and unknowingly was launched down the path of designing premium gear bags. But he also learned a thing or two about shooting, so when a friend invited him to a special training class to learn even more, Jim couldn't resist. This Part 1 of 2 installments is shared in the spirit of earlier adventures in Zambia, Costa Rica, and Washington, D.C.

Five yards away, I could see it clearly. My arms raised, the sight came into focus, and one trigger press quickly followed by another. Bam. Bam.

I backed up, the instructor called out, and a new target turned towards me. Again my arms raised, the sight came into focus — Bam. Bam. Bam.

The process repeated until I was well back away from the targets. Allotted time for each target gets shorter as the day unfolds. That is where the fun begins, or frustration. As the sun rose in the Nevada sky and the morning turned to afternoon, the instructors upped the tempo. Targets swiveled, the pace quickened. I admit to feeling a little rusty.

There’s something about the time when you focus in on the front sight. Everything else in the world fades back as you become absorbed in the moment at hand. The smell of gunpowder along with a scorching sun reminds me of another time and place. The afternoon flies by and I hardly notice it.

"Cease fire and unload" comes the call from the instructor, a quick and precise man from Argentina. Fingers a little stiff and dirty, I holster my .45 Kimber and go to find my friend David.

A childhood memory

David’s the one who convinced me to meet him in Pahrump, Nevada for the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute's handgun training course.

The opportunity arrived as one of those invitations by email that I can't seem to resist. Would you like to go shooting? read the subject line. Knowing David, I knew travel would be required. When he’s not globetrotting, he hangs his hat in London. The plan this time was to meet at the Las Vegas airport, then drive together to Front Sight.

Shooting holds a lot memories for me. Like a lot of kids, I was introduced to shooting by my father. But having a Green Beret Captain as your personal instructor can be a bit of an advantage! He spent hours working with me on how to handle a firearm safely and effectively. The skills are built with time and practice and become ingrained in your muscles. Still, if you don't get out there and use them, you're gonna get rusty. Count me in David. I'll meet you in Vegas.

Springtime in the Rockies

The time for my adventure arrived the same day as a May snowstorm. Airlines cancelled flights across the Rockies and I found myself stranded in Salt Lake City! Could I take a chance on the last flight out that evening? No dice, amigo. Nothing left to do but shoulder my Air Boss and Gator bag and catch a shuttle to the hotel.

My pistol case had been checked through and I imagined it ominously landing in a Vegas baggage cart somewhere. The gate agent assured me it would be secure.

Packing Heat

I had brought two very different .45s with me for the class. My personal choice for a self defense handgun is the 1911 Kimber Ultra Comp. My spare, or backup pistol, was a bit over the top and more of a tactical weapon: the Heckler & Koch USP.

The two pistols couldn't be more dissimilar if you tried. The 1911 style pistol has been around for nearly a century and has seen many improvements and customizations during its long history. The Heckler & Koch model is a relatively new pistol with roots in the Special Ops community. A state of the art design, the USP carries all sorts of mounting points for bolting on a light or suppressor.

The next morning, I caught the first thing smoking out of Salt Lake and arrived in Vegas to a zoo. Not a car to be rented anywhere. Seems this was a fight weekend and the town was packed. My Front Sight class already started, I needed to get to Pahrump in a hurry. In Vegas, money talks and suckers walk. Choosing the path of least resistance, I headed to the cash machine, then found a cab driver. Two C notes later, we were rolling to the high desert.

As the cabbie chain smoked vile cigarettes, I wondered how this colorful Brooklyn native ever made a tip! The ride reminded me of something from Central America. Between erratic lane changes and horn blowing, he blurted expletives that my drill instructor would have been proud of.

On site at Front Sight

Arriving late for school with my Red Oxx luggage in tow, the Front Sight staff immediately set about getting me caught up with the rest of the class.

The setting, the rapid efficiency of the staff, all of it impressed me. It had been a while since I had done any serious range work. As I looked out across sandy, bermed ranges and worn targets, I recalled that the last time I had access to a range like this, my hair had been shorn to a stubble and Uncle Sam was running the show. Much nicer here now, I thought, and I didn't have to sleep with the snakes.

First stop: the ammo dump where I packed my Gator to the gills with .45 and headed down to the range.

The standard course of fire starts close and moves back from the target progressively. So each time you move back the distance is increased from the target. The instructor calls out each time and the targets turn and you draw and take your shots. Sounds simple right? It is, as long as you hit the target in the allowed time and hit it where you were aiming. The difficulty increases by extending the distance and shortening the time allowed to shoot.

My friend David chose the practical rifle course. He dinged targets all afternoon. After the instructors called out the day’s "Cease Fire!", I found him looking sun burned but happy. We loaded our gear into the rental.

"Cool case," I said.

David hefted into the trunk a Gun Runner rifle cases. "I know of this little shop in Montana that makes them," he quipped.

An oasis

The sun set as we rolled thru the desert towards the Bonnie Springs motel and ranch. Set in a canyon, the 115 acre resort is a well preserved bit of motor history from the days when families would load up the car and head out west. The restaurant was pretty cool with log benches and the like done in peeled log, circa 1950s fixtures and it had a nice smoke patina from years of two inch steaks being grilled. The rooms were total retro, with the latest remodel sometime during the reign of Elvis.

Leave it to David to find a fun little place that has a little soul to it!

Read Part 2 of Jim’s Adventure at Front Sight which will appear here in November 2005.


Secondary photo Defensive Handgun course at Front Sight Secondary photo On the range at Front Sight