It was a rare cloudless morning outside of Portland, Ore., when the training team from Leupold Optics kicked off its fourth ever defensive pistol class.
Until now, the course had been offered to employees only. Now, it's open to everyone who wants to attend.
The introduction of this course begs the question, though. Why is an academy that, until this point, had only offered precision rifle and designated marksman classes adding a defensive pistol course? The answer lies in a change in company policy.
Leupold had allowed its employees to carry concealed on the grounds for years. The problem, however, was that company policy required employees to carry Condition Four.
Condition Four necessitates that a handgun be completely unloaded with a magazine removed. In order to bring the pistol to a ready condition, the magazine must be inserted and a round chambered.
"We considered this policy to be really unsafe," Leupold Optics Academy Instructor Michael Baccellieri said. "Employees who carried Condition One, or cocked and locked, outside of work were having to unholster and unload their handgun before work and then unholster, load and reholster their handgun after work."
This practice increased the risk of a negligent discharge while the gun was being handled as well as making it more difficult to engage a threat while carrying in Condition Four, considering the time needed to ready the gun.
Two years ago, training instructors sat down with the HR department at Leupold and explained their problems with the policy. This resulted in a new policy that allowed employees to carry Condition One at Leupold.
The catch was that all employees who chose to carry were required to attend a 16-hour training course to demonstrate proficient and safe handling with a firearm before carrying.
"Firearms training courses are expensive," Baccellieri said. "Not only do you have the cost of the class itself, which can be anywhere from $400-600, but you have the cost of ammo, transportation, lodging, and other things. It can be thousands of dollars."
His solution? Offer a course through the Leupold Optics Academy for employees looking to build their handgun proficiency.
The course itself is $250, and the range is barely an hour from the Leupold offices. All participants need is to bring their own ammo. Even guns and holsters are optional, since Leupold has Glock 34s equipped with the company's own Delta Point Pro optic and Safariland holsters for those who need them.
Participation in the training has been overwhelming, and the popularity of the course is undeniable. It looks like that's just the start, though.
"Whenever I post the class, it fills within 15 minutes," Baccellieri said. "I even have master shooters come up to ask me when I'll be offering the class again, because it's so helpful for them to practice the fundamentals."
The class itself is capped at 12 students, and three instructors teach the course. Baccellieri said he wants to maintain a 4:1 student/instructor ratio to ensure that every student gets individual attention. More eyes on the range also makes for a safer range, he said.
The instructors are Garth Kendig, who taught at the Oregon Firearms Academy before coming to Leupold, Tim O'Connor, Leupold's manager of consumer services and an instructor at Gunsite Academy and Baccellieri himself, who served in the U.S. Marines as a scout in a sniper platoon and in the U.S. Army as a sniper. He also served as a sniper school instructor at the NGMTC schoolhouse.
The course takes place over two days in western Oregon, and it is a range class. There is no classroom, seats or whiteboard. From 8 a.m., students are holstered up and on the seven-yard line in front of IPSC cardboard targets.
After safety rules are covered and practiced, the instructors clear the range and present the basic fundamentals from step one. OWB holsters are required for this course, and I used a CrossBreed SuperSlide and double magazine carrier molded for my Glock 19.
The first couple hours are spent on perfecting holster draws. Once every student feels confident, guns are loaded and stay loaded for the remainder of the course.
Step by step, the fundamentals are built upon. Every step is illustrated by Baccellieri or one of the other instructors, and they discuss the reasoning behind every action.
Their methodology is encapsulated by often-repeated phrases on the firing line, such as, "Shoot as fast as you can, but as slow as you need to," "You can't miss fast enough" and "Intentionality in all things."
Even pinpoint firing drills are about chasing perfection. Five-shot groups are not five-shot groups. Instead, they're "one perfect shot repeated five times." As semantic as it may sound, mindset matters, and it's clear that the mindset they teach at Leupold makes a difference.
Participants who had rarely shot a handgun before went from shooting torso-sized groups at the start to shooting tight center mass groups by the end of day two.
The class progressed from shooting single shots to five-shot groups to controlled pairs to hammers and failure-to-stop drills. Every step was logically placed, and every advance was clearly outlined.
By the end of day two, shooters who had never done more than stand at a shooting bench were excelling at shooting, maneuvering, reloading and engaging multiple targets with rapid shots at distances from 3 yards to 20 yards.
At every point, the importance of mindset was never lost with those on the firing line. At every opportunity, Baccellieri, Kendig and O'Connor hammered the reality that this was not a game. This was survival training.
Every aspect of the course was to ensure that those who carried to defend their life and the lives of others recognized the importance of each fundamental building block and the necessity of incorporating every movement together smoothly.
"It's important to recognize that this is a diminishing skill," O'Connor said. "You have to practice. You have to get back out on the range."
It's safe to say that it's a company that wholeheartedly believes in the values of self-defense and the Second Amendment. Leupold Optics is certainly owned, operated and defended by true Americans.