Hi, everybody! Sorry I haven’t been posting lately. I’ve mentioned it before, but this is just the crazy time of year for me. I’m teaching five classes this semester, and two of them are brand new preps with brand new students. I also have a brand new adjunct this semester, so I’ve been training her up too. That’s why I’m nearly two months late in telling you all about the Minuteman Rifle Course I had the pleasure of taking this summer from the legendary John Murphy of FPF Training.

One of the banner images on this very website is the receiver for my AR, all shiny and new and barely out of the bubble wrap. Remember how excited I was to finally get my very first BSG? And then how bummed out I was that I never got to shoot it? Well, that syndrome continued for well over a year (okay, fine, more like two… don’t judge me). My poor BSG just sat there being neglected and collecting dust. So when the opportunity came to snag a spot in John’s class, I said “screw it” and hopped a jet plane to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I already knew John for his absolutely phenomenal handgun classes (I’ve often told new concealed carriers, “if you could only take one class per year, take Murphy’s Street Encounter Skills). So I expected a rifle class from him to be just as good. Here’s how Murph bills the course:

This eight-hour class is designed to provide the novice a firm grounding in basics of safety, manipulation and marksmanship for military style rifles, primarily the AR series. Minuteman Rifle Course (MRC) is a basic class, plate carriers, night vision devices, lasers, etc. are not required. Optics (Aimpoint, Trijicon, etc. are welcome!)

See how that description is just dripping with undercurrents of “don’t come here to boost your ego or show off or be a badass super-mega-rambo-commando SWAT Green Beret Navy SEAL Special Forces Operator”? Exactly. And this is why I like John’s work. He keeps his feet firmly on the same ground that John Q. Citizen traverses on any given day. He’s not about fluff and pomp. And “ego” is pretty damn close to a forbidden concept in all of his classes. I like.

John has a very nice range in northern Virginia, situated in a large clearing in the middle of otherwise dense forest (or at least dense by my city-girl standards). He has outfitted a large shed into a surprisingly comfy classroom using generators, but for the Minuteman class, we didn’t even use the classroom. Instead, John rounded us all up for a 20- or 30-minute introduction to the parts and operation of a standard AR platform, gave a thorough safety briefing, laid out the medical emergency plans, and then it was all shooting from there on out.

John also threw in a quick historical note on the original Culpeper Minutemen, who, way back in the day, assembled under their famous rattlesnake flag not far from the very spot where FPF Training courses are now held. John is quite the history buff, BTW (especially military history). Anywho…

I admit I was a little nervous about taking this course, as I expected to be surrounded by “operators” with plate carriers and thousand-dollar optics and what not. In fact, there was one student in the class who brought a rifle that probably cost more than my house. But he happened to be a friend of mine who had come up from Florida, and he was super-cool (not obnoxiously “operator” at all). But the course itself turned out to be perfect for a rifle novice like me. I was able to get to know my AR a lot better, habituate my gun-handling, and remind myself how badly I need to add some push-ups to the daily routine. After so many reps, the arms were screaming.

Still working on mastering the optic. I got some good hits and shot well for the most part (albeit much too slowly, as usual). But I’m still learning how to do the math for adjusting my optic, how to conquer the parallax phenomenon more consistently, and how to use all those numbers and tick marks to my advantage. For this class, all I did was shoot and watch John come and make occasional tweaks to my optic settings. Eventually, I’d like to learn how to do all that stuff myself.

We shot prone, from a seated position, from kneeling, and from standing, starting at about ten yards and moving out to over 100 yards (I think… something like that). John was very patient with me, since this was about six weeks after my hip surgery and I wasn’t exactly spry about hopping up and down off the deck. I discovered that I absolutely LOVE shooting my AR from the prone position. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that my lack of arm strength is no longer a factor. But beyond that, I just love the idea of tuning out almost everything but those crosshairs. No worries about legs or arms being tired, back or hip or knee pain, students, family, colleagues, money, social life, car trouble, overdue work, nothing. All that matters in those seconds is that little black cross in my optic. It really was a coveted moment of pure respite. I could hear myself breathe. I smelled leaves and grass rather than concrete or printer ink. I felt the crisp break of the trigger, got a reassuring pat on the shoulder from the stocks, and then, ping. Slow motion exhale. Repeat. For an awkward little urban introvert with gimpy joints and attention deficit issues, it doesn’t really get much better than that.

I’m still a novice on the AR platform, and I’m nowhere near ready to pop mine into action “at a minute’s notice.” But thanks to John Murphy, I sure do have a much higher level of comfort, familiarity, and confidence with my rifle. And this class has definitely whet my appetite for more rifle training. I now know it’s just as useful for psychological therapy as for personal defense.