March 2019 was slow in coming — I had a phenomenal trip planned, and the calendar moved at a glacial pace. It all started in June of 2018, when I eagerly sent in an application for The Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation (JCLF) scholarship. The scholarship awarded the recipient a tuition-free, five-day #250 Defensive Pistol Class at Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona.
The JCLF exists:
To preserve, protect and defend the principle of self-reliance and the individual right of self-defense as espoused by Jeff Cooper. The Foundation will provide scholarships for firearms training in the Cooper tradition as well as preserve his writings and his personal collection for posterity.
But to truly understand the import of a Gunsite Scholarship and class, I need to go further back, back to my high school days.
My senior year, since I had satisfied all requirements, I was allowed to take mostly AP elective courses. My family lived in Bend, Oregon, smack dab in the middle of the state, in High Desert country, rich with cattle and ranches, horses and cowboys, country music and swing dancing. And hunting and shooting.
I registered to attend “Fiction of the American West,” taught by Mr. Hays, who quickly became my favorite teacher of all time. Hays was an Oklahoman who had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941, and took part in the D-Day invasion of Europe. He was upright and flinty-eyed, wore his hair cut high and tight, and would brook no nonsense.
That class absolutely baptised my imagination as we ventured into the lore and history of the American West with such books as Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage and movies such as High Noon and Cimarron.
Mister Hays told stories of growing up in Oklahoma, of a code of ethics akin to Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code:
- The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
- He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
- He must always tell the truth.
- He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
- He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
- He must help people in distress.
- He must be a good worker.
- He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
- He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
- The Cowboy is a patriot.
I’m sure that sounds more than a little archaic to today’s millennials or the more recent (2013-2025) “Gen Alpha” young’uns, but truth doesn’t change. Right and wrong are still right and wrong no matter how much some college prof or beltway elitist tries to tell us differently.
With the backdrop of my love of the High Desert, guns, and all things Western, LtCol Jeff Cooper’s renown intrigued me.
Cameron Hopkins wrote in his article “Jeff Cooper: Father of Modern Pistol Shooting“at American Rifleman:
John Dean Cooper—“Jeff” to one and all—stands alone and unchallenged as the most influential individual to ever hold forth on small arms doctrine and technique.
Never one to lean on false modesty, Cooper avowed that he was the “fountainhead” of shooting doctrine, and indeed he was. Cooper single-handedly changed the entire methodology for small arms in all branches of the U.S. military.
Today, everyone from Special Forces operators to Force Recon Marines to Navy SEALs utilize Jeff’s Modern Technique, or a variation thereof. No one has ever done so much for so many as John Dean Cooper.
Attending Gunsite was on my bucket list, but my budget was meager.
Out of the blue last summer, ROBAR President/Owner — and after four years working for and with him, my great friend — Freddie Blish contacted me and suggested I apply for the JCLF scholarship. I kept my expectations low as I mailed my application detailing why I wanted to train at Gunsite and why in the wide, wide world I should even be considered.
Weeks went by and finally, the second week of August, I received a nondescript-looking manilla envelope from JCLF. I hadn’t seen the acronym before and was puzzled. But not for long. I opened the envelope and read excitedly:
Dear Ms. Jackson,
It pleases me to report that the board of directors of The Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation has approved awarding you a scholarship for the tuition cost of a five-day #250 Defensive Pistol Class at Gunsite Academy…
I couldn’t contact Freddie quickly enough: I was walking on air and my mind raced, making plans for my trip!
Freddie was immensely pleased, and suggested I quickly call Ann Harrington, owner/manager of the Little Thumb Butte Bed and Breakfast, and ask about availabilities during the second week of March. Ann was both gracious and to the point, yes she had a room and it would be reserved for me.
Next I notified Gunsite (per the JCLF instructions), and informed them I would take part in the 11-15 March 2019 250 Pistol Class. Freddie also contacted Gunsite to advise he would be an instructor for the week, and thus could help critique (aka give me plenty of static as big brother types are wont to do) my technique.
Gunsite, founded in 1976 by USMC LtCol Jeff Cooper, initially as the “American Pistol Institute” (API), garnered a prestigious reputation over the years like its founder: this was freedom land and holstered pistols carried in Condition One (round chambered, full magazine, hammer/striker cocked, safety on) are the norm.
Gunsite has a top-shelf roster of instructors and rangemasters as described on the website:
Gunsite actively searches out the very best firearms instructors.
Gunsite Instructors are highly trained men and women who have been there done that. They have a background of military, law enforcement or have a high degree and experience of training in their field. Many have been on our faculty since Jeff Cooper was the lead instructor at Gunsite. They are active and retired Marines, Special Forces, Navy, Army and Air Force from Enduring Freedom, Viet Nam and Law Enforcement Agencies around the Country.
USMC LtCol (Ret) Freddie Blish is one such instructor. I was about to meet a whole passel of such knowledgeable instructors.
I flew into Phoenix on Friday, 8 March 19, hosted by Freddie and his sweet and spunky bride, Hope. I did concealed carry training all day Saturday and Sunday, then Sunday early evening Freddie and I drove north to Paulden.
Freddie dropped me off at the panoramic Little Thumb Butte Bed and Breakfast — softly lit up by clear lights hung on the roof edge, and looking like the ranch house it is.
Just as I had anticipated, Ann had left a note on the door with directions to my wonderful room upstairs, informing me that another gal who was also staying there would be happy to let me ride with her back and forth to Gunsite. Things were falling into place.
My room was everything I had hoped: roomy, pristine, decorated in tasteful Western art and pictures.
At 0515 the next morning I was up and at ’em, wanting to be sure I and my loadout was ready — didn’t want my ride waiting for me, plus Ann had instructed that breakfast was served up promptly at 0630. I met Deb coming from her room, and we quickly hit it off.
Ann grilled us before breakfast, “Do you eat pork? Chicken? Eggs? Beef? Anything you don’t like?” (I replied, “Liver and mushrooms.”)
Breakfast was delicious, laid out on buffet tables in the sunroom/dining room which possessed one of the most gorgeous vistas I’ve ever seen!
Suffice it to say, the food at LIttle Thumb Butte, every bit of it, is delicious and plentiful. Ann even offers a side table with an array of healthy snacks you’re welcome to take with you…and we did!
It was a quick 15 minute drive to Gunsite and Deb and I talked rapid-fire, only interrupted by her rental, a “talking Toyota.” That SUV became the source of many a joke during the week as it issued commands willy-nilly. Finally, we saw the famous Gunsite gate.
The excitement mounted as we drove up the long, now paved, drive to Gunsite, and at long last saw the iconic flag with raven atop. I grinned as “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” theme played in my head. It might be two-thousand and nineteen, but I was in the old west and loving it.
Deb and I grabbed our range bags and headed into the classroom. All of the tables had been organized, the room split into two rows of tables, as the class was so large it was divvied up with two rangemasters. Deb and I were on the left side, and placecards, in alpha order, indicated where we were to sit. Our class materials were neatly stacked at each place, with a name tag which was to be pinned on the back of our caps.
I was soon greeted by Gunsite CEO Ken Campbell. Ken smiled and said that, in spite of all Freddie had told them about me, they were delighted to have me there and really happy I’d won the scholarship. I laughed and had an inkling of what the week would be like surrounded by a bunch of unpolitically correct, Second Amendment-loving Gunsite staff and instructors. I smiled feeling right at home. In fact, I later told Ken and others that these people — these instructors and Rangemasters et al — these were my tribe.
Although Ken wasn’t instructing that week — at least not on the range — he certainly could have done so, as proven by his Gunsite bio.
Sheriff (Ret.) Ken Campbell had over 35 years of experience at the Boone County Indiana Sheriff’s Office in Central Indiana when he retired in 2014. His duties have included: Special Response Team (SWAT) Team Commander, K-9 Handler, Crash Reconstructionist, Hazardous Materials Technician, Reserve Unit Commander, Shift Supervisor, Enforcement Division Captain, Firearms Instructor and Armorer, and two (2) terms as the elected Sheriff.
Firearms training over the years included Remington, Glock, Colt, Smith and Wesson, H&K, and many others.
His Instructor Certifications included several Less-Lethal applications including Oleoresin of Capsicum (Pepper Spray), Sage International and Taser.
Ken has been teaching at Gunsite since 1992 in the Pistol, Carbine, Rifle and Shotgun courses.
Ken brought the room to order and spoke a bit about the Gunsite 250 experience and what to expect, and introduced my Rangemaster, Steve Hendricks, who has an equally impressive bio:
Steve Hendricks’ experience in the use of force includes over 30 years as a Martial Arts Instructor, Firearms Rangemaster and Certified Defensive Tactics Instructor.
He has 16 years experience as a Certified Peace Officer in California and Colorado serving as a Patrol Officer, and in Investigation, High Risk Warrant Service, Training VIP Protection Details and Supervisor. He spent two years with the US Department of Energy’s Non-Proliferation National Security Institutes Center Training Academy, as their Lead Instructor for Firearms Instructor Certification.
He has been an Adjunct Instructor at Gunsite Academy since 1991 and is also an adjunct instructor for US DOE Office of Secure Transport. Steve is a Rangemaster for Pistol, Carbine, Shotgun, Foreign Weapons and Close Quarters Combat.
Rounding out our instructors assisting Rangemaster Steve, was Freddie, Ken Koch (retired Chief of Police with 30 years of service in Northern Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado; 20 years of experience in firearms training, command of S.W.A.T., Hostage Negotiations and Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams and developing leading public safety protocols for prevention and response to “Active Killing” incidents), and newly-minted instructor-to-be, James Ratcliffe.
The other section was led by Rangemaster Charlie McNeese (Charlie and I had a wonderful conversation in the Gunsite Proshop), who had plenty of creds to back up his position:
Charlie McNeese retired from the AZ. Department of Public Safety after serving 33 years. He was the Department’s Master Firearms Instructor and Senior Armorer.
He received a Master Firearms Instructor certification from the University of Illinois.
He was in the Marine Corps for four years prior to his law enforcement career. Charlie is a Gunsite Rangemaster in Pistol, Carbine and Shotgun.
All of us — I believe there were about 36 total, 18 in each section — quickly learned that certain things, important things, “Gunsite doctrine,” would be repeated often. Beginning with Cooper’s universally taught four rules of gun safety:
- Rule One: All guns are always loaded.
- Rule Two: Never let the muzzle cover anything which you are not willing to destroy.
- Rule Three: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Rule Four: Always be sure of your target.
After the initial introductory lecture, during which we learned that the original buildings were named after books of the Bible (yes, the latrine was named “John”), we were dismissed to follow our Rangemaster to the range we would be at all week.
My group included a couple of fathers and sons, including Chuck and Matt Tweedy (permission given to use their names!), a husband and wife, and even two (very competitive) brothers. All told, there were four of us gals in the group.
Once at the range, we deposited our range bags in the reloading shed, we could leave our ammo and anything else in the same spot all week. We were told to charge all our mags. Each of us had a pistol (I had my ROBAR finished and customized Glock™ 19 Gen 3), electronic muffs, protective glasses, five mags, at least two mag pouches, and 1,000 rounds of ball ammo, 50 rounds of frangible.
Before we hit the three yard line, Steve repeated the four rules of gun safety, and motioned toward the targets as he said, “Downrange” then pointed in the opposite direction, toward the road, “Uprange. Don’t confuse them.” Those admonitions, among others, were repeated every time before shooting began.
We received many instructions. Such as, when asked if we were ready and we were not, to yell, “NO!” and everyone else should yell, “NO!” as well.
What followed were five intense days of instruction beginning at 0800 and winding up at around 1645 (excepting on the day that included a night shoot). The instruction was careful, thorough, detailed and deliberate. Steve and the other instructors broke down our draw, analyzed our trigger pull, emphasized the front site, taught us mag/ammo management and so much more.
The drills became more difficult and the shoot times lessened. It was fantastic!
We not only shot on the box range, we also practiced clearing a house and shooting threats in an open draw (as in gully).
Perhaps the most fun of all was shooting metal targets in the shoot out on Friday.
I lost on the left and right in my first round, lost on the left, won on the right in my second round, and won on both the left and right in my third round. I don’t care what you say: there’s nothing as satisfying as hearing that ping as your bullet hits the small metal target!
At the end of the day each class participant gathered, with instructors, on the 35 yard line, faced down range, and cleared/checked their weapon for the condition they wished to carry home. Typically I carried Condition One, except for the night I cleaned my Glock™.
Every evening Deb (who never even let me pay a dime for gas!) and I would return to the Little Thumb Butte B&B, thankful for a delicious hot meal, and a beyond beautiful cozy spot to rest and recharge.
The week sped by and Friday afternoon we packed it up, grabbed our range bags and gear after the shootout and once again both sections gathered in the classroom for graduation. As I took my seat I was approached by two pretty smiling gals who introduced themselves as Lindy (Cooper Wisdom) and Christy (Cooper Hastings), Jeff Cooper’s daughters. They knew very well who I was and that I was the JCLF Scholarship recipient, and could not be more welcoming. Both ladies encouraged me to come to the reception they and their mom, Janelle, were hosting at The Sconce (the Cooper home on the Gunsite property) after graduation.
For graduation everyone received a certificate, with the credentials earned in the class.
I’m plenty proud of my “Certificate of Achievement” which states I have “achieved the status of Marksman in the use if the Glock 19 G3 9mm.” Oh I will return and do better: I want to kill the “El Presidente” (a drill, not a person) and do better in the shootout.
We all walked over to The Sconce — which is equal parts home, fortress and museum — to meet the highly esteemed and beloved Mrs. Janelle Cooper and partake of her lemonade and mouth-watering brownies. Jeff and Janelle were an amazing duo, partners and sweethearts through 64 years of marriage. Lindy, in her book Jeff Cooper: The Soul and the Spirit, noted her father’s written tribute to his wife:
Jane Ellen Marks Cooper, my bride of 60 years…I have lightly termed her “The Countess,” as that is the only title I may apply to the consort of a “guru”. The Countess is the only person I have ever encountered, either in person or by reputation, who is without flaw. Life has handed her its full share of tribulation, fulfillment and adventure, and she has met each successive year with unmatched wisdom, courage and pleasure in equal measure, The Countess is one of God’s best handworks. I must have led a truly exemplary life in my previous incarnation if I deserve her in this one.
Janelle greeted all of us warmly, and had many kind words for me in particular which I treasure. Mrs. Cooper will be 99 years of age on 31 May 2019, and yet lives independently and only this year gave up driving herself. Everyone that knows her seems to love her and it’s easy to figure out. Janelle Cooper is a true lady in every good sense of the word.
While at The Sconce, I had my picture taken with Janelle, which is the tradition for all Jeff Cooper Legacy Foundation Scholarship recipients. What a priceless memory!
Freddie and I headed south to Phoenix after saying our goodbyes to Janelle, Lindy, and Christy.
As we drove south, our conversation centered on Gunsite and the Coopers and the wonderful experience.
I am now part of the Gunsite family and cannot wait for the reunion! I heartily recommend the Gunsite 250 Defensive Pistol class: the principles and practice of this course lay a foundation for proper pistol shooting and a proper combat mindset.
I still am thinking about the American West, of virtuous cowboys, ladylike damsels, and the code that makes us civilized.
That spirit of the west lives on at Gunsite. And I will be forever grateful for the opportunity afforded me thanks to the JCLF.
Sometimes dreams do come true.
Many thanks to Freddie for prompting me to try for the JCLF Scholarship. And to Ann Harrington, the grand hostess who made me feel at home. To Deb, my new friend, fellow shooter and personal driver. To Ken Campbell for the welcome! To Steve Hendricks, for your first-class instruction and making sure I drew before kneeling and firing! To Ken Koch, for your help in the Scrambler. To James Ratcliffe for your help and encouragement and the pictures you took! And of course, to Janelle, Lindy, and Christy for your kind and generous, yet fiercely patriotic spirit! It was a joy meeting you and I hope to return.