Arizona is rich with resources. At one time this state provided the country with more than 60 percent of its copper demand. A rich silver vein helped establish Tombstone in the 1880s, and the nearby grasslands of Sonoita were and are home to many cattle herds. The Grand Canyon is another of Arizona’s scenic wonders, and the state’s riches are vast and diverse. But my favorite resource is Gunsite Academy located just outside of Prescott and just a four-hour drive from my home in Tucson.
Founded in 1976 by retired Marine Lt. Colonel Jeff Cooper, it is one of the oldest and largest privately-owned training facilities dedicated to teaching gun-handling skills to civilians. Boasting nearly 2,000 acres with more than 15 ranges and three live-fire shoot houses, Gunsite is considered graduate school for serious students of weaponry. While the facility is top notch in every respect, it is the instructor cadre that makes Gunsite Academy the number one choice among responsible armed citizens. Nearly all of the instructors have either military or law enforcement experience and a majority of them have both! But, I was curious to know what the instructors grab when their wives ask them to go out and get a gallon of milk? A recent trip to Gunsite allowed me the opportunity to ask my favorite instructors.
Ken Campbell is currently the chief executive officer of Gunsite and answers only to its owner, Buz Mills. But long before he was an employee of Gunsite, Campbell started taking classes there and became an instructor in 1992. Campbell spent a total of 35 years with Boone County Sheriff’s Office in Indiana and eventually retired as the Sheriff.
When I asked Campbell what he’d put on to go to the convenience store, he told me, “I’m not a plastic holster kind of guy, but having said that I put on a HAWG holster with a Sig P365 and wear it IWB in the appendix position. The holster clips to your pants, not your belt. Initially, I was like, no way! But I found it to be comfortable and you’ll tear my jeans off before the holster will let go. The owner of HAWG (Help America Wear Guns) is a former Marine and the neat thing is he’ll only use American-made products for his holsters, from the clips to the Allen wrenches he includes, and even the bag it is packaged in. I even wore a Glock 19 from here (Prescott, Arizona) to Indiana and back driving with my Glock 19 at the 4-o’clock position inside the waistband and it’s just really comfortable. And, again, I’m not a plastic holster guy!”
Campbell also carries a back-up to his primary concealed gun. In fact, each of the instructors I spoke with carried two guns for their milk runs. Campbell related, “I’ve carried two guns for over 40 years and it’s not a habit I want to break. In fact, every time you’ve ever seen me, I’ve been carrying a Smith & Wesson, five-shot .38 Special J-frame in a Sticky Holster. Bill Halvorsen, one of our instructors with 27 years of experience with LAPD and Glendale PD, showed me years ago how to conceal the gun behind my twin magazine carrier on my belt.”
Campbell carries a S&W Model 60 in his Sticky Holster and the gun is all but invisible behind his 1911 mag pouches. The Sticky Holster, in this case the MD-5 medium, stays in place when the weapon is pulled. The raw neoprene is tacky and stays put on the beltline without any securing straps. But once the gun has been drawn, for safety sake, the Sticky Holster must be removed from the pants and the gun reinserted before it is put back into its carry position. Campbell carries his gun at the 10 o’clock position with the butt positioned for a left-hand presentation, but as he demonstrated for me, it can be grabbed by either hand and put into action quickly. He has also outfitted his revolver with a Crimson Trace Lasergrip so he can place shots on target even if he can’t get a sight picture. That makes a lot of sense to me. Even when Campbell isn’t wearing his 1911 and twin magazine carrier, he can easily blouse his shirt over the top of the J-frame, concealing it Completely.
Ed Head is an Air Force Security Police veteran as well as a retired Border Patrol agent who spent much of his career on the California/Mexico border. Many of the media and private training events I’ve attended at Gunsite have been taught by Head. He’s an excellent instructor and someone I have developed a great deal of respect for over the years.
I asked Head, what gun and carry rig he’d grab if his wife asked him to run out and get a gallon of milk. His reply surprised me—at least, initially. “You know what, I carry the same gun for everything now,” Head said. “I teach with, run the range with and carry a modified Glock 19. I carry it in the same holster and in the same place always. It is in a Simply Rugged CID leather holster. I have a couple of them—I have a brown and a black one depending on what I’m wearing. I am trying to be consistent with doing everything the same way all the time. Sometimes I do carry a back-up to my primary gun and if I do, I carry it on my weak-side hip and it is a modified Glock 26. It is a smaller gun but will take my Glock 19 magazines and I usually carry one extra magazine. Sometimes I carry a spare 15- or 17-round magazine, but lately I’ve been carrying a 24-round magazine, just because. Head had told me about an incident several years ago when two illegal aliens attempted to carjack his truck in a grocery store parking lot. I asked him if he was wearing the Glock 19 at the time. “No, you see that was a sad lesson,” he said. “That was right after I retired from the Border Patrol and moved to Prescott Valley, and I went to the grocery store with a five-shot J-frame on my right hip. Then this incident happened, and I said to myself well… this is just stupid. Sometimes I’ll be out in the yard with a J-frame and I can just stick it in my back pocket or if I am doing yard work a belt holster. But I don’t go out and about with a five-shot J-frame anymore. That incident in the grocery store parking lot and a couple others convinced me that the J-frame is not what I want for fighting.
“I used to teach with 1911s all the time, and I teach revolver classes and I carried revolvers for years with the Border Patrol and I’ve just settled on the idea that I’m going to teach with, train with and carry the same gun all of the time. I’ll use the other guns for specialty classes but otherwise I am sticking with that one Glock 19.”
I’ve seen Head run a revolver and he is deadly. I know he also enjoys revolvers and has a few that are so beautiful and exquisitely tuned that they make fellow shooters drool. So, it was a surprise to see that Head has decided to train, teach and carry with just one gun, but his arrival at this decision is based on a lifetime experience and I have to respect that and learn from it.
Simply Rugged’s headquarters is a mere 15-minute drive from Gunsite, so on my return home I stopped and saw Rob Leahy. He was an Army MP and got his start making holsters and gear for his buddies. He makes his holsters the old-fashioned way and they are built to last. While I visited with Leahy, one of his leather benders made a CID holster for my POF-USA P19—a very limited run of guns they did this year that is basically a clone of the Glock 19 with some of POF’s own custom enhancements. Leahy’s CID is a minimalist pancake belt slide design that provides great retention and holds the gun close to the body for maximum concealability. Its open bottom design is perfect for the guy or gal who owns multiple Glocks with different barrel lengths—like Ed Head’s Glock 19 and Glock 26. It’s good stuff, American made by an American patriot.
Dave Hartman is Gunsite’s training director and I had a chance to sit and visit briefly with him and his pup, Gunner. The former Marine wears a 1911 to work every day in a Davis Leather Liberty 453 holster and a matching double mag pouch. I asked the 27-year veteran of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department what gun and carry rig he puts on to make a run to the convenience store.
“I carry a S&W M&P Shield and use an NSR Tactical C-4 IWB holster at the 4-o’clock position (behind his right side hip),” he said. Like many of his contemporaries, Hartman also carries a small J-frame revolver as a back-up to his primary concealed carry gun. He likes to carry his in the appendix position and also uses a Sticky Holster.
One of my other favorite Gunsite instructors is Lew Gosnell, a former Marine MP and career law enforcement officer in southern California. He’s been a firearms instructor for over 20 years and also worked as a gang investigator and detective, as well as leading a high-risk warrant team. Gosnell is a fountain of dry wit and sarcasm, and I’m constantly asking myself, “Did he really just say that?” Cop humor has a way of lightening what could be very dark and foreboding topics, and Gosnell skates its edges effortlessly, which makes him a very effective instructor.
Not to say he doesn’t take shooting seriously. In fact, Gosnell is a Soldier of Fortune 3-gun champion, won the Steel Challenge shotgun championship and was the first End of Trail winner. He’s deadly with anything you put in his hand, so I was curious to know what he’d wear for a convenience store run.
“Primary gun would be either a Glock 17 or 19 carried in the 3 o’clock position in an OWB holster from either NSR Tactical or JM Custom Kydex,” he said. “I carry my back-up gun in the offside pocket and often use a Glock 26, S&W 442 or Ruger LCP. For pocket carry, I use products from AHolster, DeSantis and Tuff Products.”
I’ve gotten to know Sheriff Jim Wilson over the years, primarily at Gunsite media events. The Texas lawman is also a renowned country music singer and recently did a brunch show in Tucson. Of course, I had to go and listen to him. His song “West of Somewhere” is one of my favorites, and that alone made the drive worthwhile. When Jim finished his set, he invited me over to his table. Naturally, we talked about gun stuff and he mentioned he was driving up to Gunsite the next day where he was sponsoring a Team Tactics class for some industry people. I asked Wilson what he’d put on to run out to the grocery store.
“I’ve got a lot of nice guns but have narrowed my carry guns down to just two,” he said. “If I’m not carrying a S&W Model 42 (a lightweight, fiveshot .38 Special) I’m carrying my Nighthawk Custom Hi-Power. I almost always wear a vest and often Mexican Carry the little S&W. But I use a Barranti Leather Urban Companion for the Hi-Power. Doc Barranti makes some great stuff, and his Urban Companion looks as good as my Nighthawk pistol!”
I own a lot of nice 1911s and many of them have seen use on the Gunsite ranges. But even my Lightweight Commander is too big and heavy to wear comfortably all day. So, when I’m out and about running errands I’ll almost always have my lightly customized S&W M&P Shield in 9mm. I carry the gun in the appendix position using an IWB Concealment Express holster and cover the gun with a button-down shirt. This set up is comfortable enough for all day carry and I recently drove from Arizona to Idaho wearing it and never once did I feel the need to take it off—even when I changed a flat on the side of the highway.
One thing I’ve learned from talking to Gunsite’s professionals is that I need to add another gun to my concealed carry mix. I own two S&W J-frames—a Model 36 and a newer Model 642, both in .38 Special. I’ll likely be ordering Sticky Holsters for those guns and start carrying one of them, along with my S&W M&P Shield, when I make a milk run.