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Training (Private)
Old 12-27-2004, 02:46 PM
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Post Training (Private)


full text posted below for educational purposes:

November 5, 2004 America's largest gunfighting school moves to Oregon

The Oregonian LAKEVIEW, Ore. (AP) - Clint Smith looks natty in a green bulletproof vest and a holstered, ivory-gripped pistol as he strides across his unfinished shooting school in the mountains north of Lakeview.

But the man who teaches gunfighting to Navy SEALs, Delta Force operators and assorted civilians is nothing if not modest.

"Almost everyone on the planet is a better shot than me or faster than me," Smith says with a slow smile. "The issue is, who is using cover best? Who is using better tactics?"

Smith, 55, and his wife, Heidi, 37, are relocating Thunder Ranch, their Texas-based tactical shooting school, to an 886-acre ranch in remote Lake County on the California border. It will open in February in a county with high unemployment and limited tourism.

In a more urban community, the influx of hundreds of gun-toting strangers might cause some concern. But Ray Simms, adviser to Lake County's Board of Commissioners, doubts it will cause undue alarm, especially during hunting season.

"Out here for the most part, every other pickup going down the road this time of year has a rifle in the window," he says.

The 11-year-old Thunder Ranch in Texas is the largest among dozens of tactical shooting schools across the nation, says firearms expert Roy Huntington of San Diego, editor of American Handgunner and Guns magazines and Smith's longtime friend.

The school teaches gunfighting to 1,200 students a year on a 2,400-acre ranch near Mountain Home, Texas, and grosses $1 million annually. Students shoot at targets moving on cables and learn to clear rooms and stairways, among other techniques. Most of the action happens outside.

In Lakeview, military and police teams will train at the ranch, but 80 percent of the students probably will be "Sam and Suzy homemakers," Smith says.

The new operation also will be much smaller: No helicopter, for instance, will be on hand to teach police and soldiers how to engage criminals and terrorists from the air, and the school will have 350 to 400 students per year.

The Smiths are moving the ranch to a spot seven miles north of town near the Warner Canyon Ski Area to allow Heidi Smith to be closer to her family in Lakeview and Sun River. Clint Smith also wants to get back to one-on-one teaching.

His philosophy is more about not shooting than shooting, he says. The 6-foot, 170-pound Vietnam veteran and ex-police officer teaches avoidance of violence, even when it means hiding behind the bed and dialing 9-1-1 when something goes bump in the night, he says.

"Most of what keeps people out of fights is personal awareness, thinking ahead," he says.

But criminals sometimes leave no avenue for people to avoid fighting back. When that happens, "I need for them to shoot well," he says.

Students who take his classes typically fire 800 to 1,000 rounds of ammunition during training.

They pay $725 for four days of instruction that could include handguns, rifles or shotguns in classes of 10 students, or up to $1,400 for a one-on-one, two-day tutorial with Smith.

The schedule will include a class for women, who are increasingly seeking training with handguns and rifles, Heidi Smith says.

To be admitted to Thunder Ranch, prospective students must bring a concealed weapon permit or letter from a sheriff or police chief attesting to their law-abiding character.

Portland Police Sgt. Larry Baird has trained under Smith 12 times and returned to Texas in September for one final class before Thunder Ranch moves to Oregon.

"Most police agencies can't put on this intense a training class," says Baird, a 24-year police veteran. "Firearms skills are easily lost, and so it is just a way to keep my skills honed."

Part of the attraction of Smith's classes are his homespun lectures, spiced with testosterone-loaded comments that friends call "Clint-isms."

"If you get shot during a gunfight, keep on fighting," he tells students with a straight face. "Getting shot doesn't mean you are going to die; it means you are in a good gunfight."

Advised that his profession makes him suspect in genteel, intellectual and cosmopolitan circles, Smith replies, "I'm not running for high school class president; I'm teaching gunfighting."

As a young Marine, Smith did two tours in Vietnam and was shot in the right shoulder by an enemy with an AK-47 rifle. He returned to combat after three months of recuperation. Later, he worked for 10 years as a police firearms instructor and SWAT team sniper for the Allen County Police Department in his home state of Indiana, he says.

Smith also taught for three years at Gunsite, a gunfighting academy in Arizona, after leaving police work. Later came a stint at a firearms academy in Virginia, then teaching classes on the road for a decade out of a van at shooting ranges across the country.

Heidi Smith decided to learn to shoot while a college sophomore after being robbed at gunpoint in Bellevue, Wash., she says. Later, she became a firearms instructor. Now, she regards her skills as "the best form of equality." Pointing to her husband, she says, "I know I can protect him."

Even with so much lead sleeting across the firearms ranges of Thunder Ranch in Texas during the past decade, no serious accidents have occurred, Heidi Smith says.

"It can happen, but we haven't had anybody yet shoot themselves or shoot anybody in class," she says. "Of course, the day isn't over yet. That is one reason we are pretty big on safety and awareness."

Sgt. David Knight of the 47-member Kerrville Police Department near the current Thunder Ranch says losing the center will be a blow to his department and others across Texas. He credits the training at the ranch with saving the lives of more than one officer.

"It is not just a place. It is a set of skills and a tactical philosophy that works well," he says.

Lakeview town manager Roberta Huddleston thinks most of the 7,400 residents of economically strapped Lake County are delighted about the arrival of the shooting school. The county never recovered from the loss of the timber industry, and unemployment last year averaged 10 percent compared with 6 percent nationally and 8 percent statewide.

The new business is expected to fill motel rooms and help restaurants and retail businesses, she says.

"It is going to bring people in from all over," she says. "This is the most incredible thing I can think of."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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