AAR: Ken Hackathorn Advanced Handgun April 26-27 Elkin NC

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Oct 12, 2005
Concord, N.C.

Me: I am currently an LEO in a large city. I was an infantryman in the US Army for 8 years and deployed to Iraq on three occasions. I have taken many courses over the years from some well known instructors/ schools and some that are not so well known. I have attended training courses on both the .mil side as well as the civilian side.

Others: There were 16 other students in the class and the host who shot when he could. There were a few LEO’s other than myself, there was a lawyer, a dude in the medical field, a civilian contractor, a service member form Okinawa, and others. Some had prior military experience and everyone had been to some other firearms training before this course. The previous training attended for better or worst showed in the shooters.


Guns and Gear: I used my Glock 19 Gen 3 with TLR-1 mounted in an OWB gun light combo holster of my own design. I ran a double magazine pouch of my own design. For magazines, I ran 6 factory G19 magazines and had no issues with them. The g19 ran very well as it always does. On a side note, I have been running a grip force adapter for years. However, I recently started using the SC (smooth) one and it is by far the best. I have no desire for the ribbed ones anymore. They are not ribbed for pleasure!

G17 Gen 4: The service member from Japan did not have a gun, magazines, or a holster when he arrived. There was supposed to be gear there for him but that didn’t work out for whatever reason. Luckily, he did have ammo though. I loaned him my G17 (Gen4), a holster, and 4 of my magazines. It ran without incident with no malfunction and no brass to the face.

Ammo: Freedom Munitions 115gr FMJ re-manufactured. Prior to the class I had only shot enough of this ammo to know that it would work. Combining the ammo that I shot for function prior to the class and the rounds fired during the class, I can say that this stuff works well. It is consistent and functioned without incident in my gun. Freedom munitions are slow to ship orders but I did get a discount for being an LEO. It is very consistent and pretty clean. Additionally, I was surprised to see how well it performed in low light considering it was not a defensive load and not marketed as such; more on that later.

Student’s guns: 2x Berettas, 3x 1911’s, 1 M&P, 1 FN 9mm, and the rest were Glocks. Ken ran a Hackathorn special Wilson Combat 1911 in 9mm. It appeared that all of the 1911’s ran well. The biggest issues I saw were with Glocks. One was a Gen 4, and the other was a Gen 3 that had an underpowered striker spring. One Glock trigger spring broke on a gun that had reached about 10k through it.

Rounds Fired: I fired a total of 551rds over the two days.


Range facility: Elkin N.C. The range was a big gravel lot with a good backstop.


Perfect: Low to mid 80’s in the afternoons. I could not have asked for better weather.


I have a very short list of instructors that I want to train with before they retire or I die. Ken has been on my list for a long time. I was planning on training with him about a year ago but work got in the way. Ken really needs no introduction and it is plain to see why I would want to train with a legend. I am honored that I got the chance to. It is rare to say that I would take the same class again. In this case I would. I suggest that if you want to ever get the opportunity to train with Ken that you do it now and not put it off for later. He has been talking about retiring for some time and I would not want to wait until it is too late. As a matter of fact, he stated that he would most likely not be back to N.C. again. He was here this time due to some things he was helping LAV with and a class that he taught at Bragg. So in essence, the others in the class and I got very lucky.


Lecture and live fire format.

Training Day One (TD1):

Ken’s whole class is based off of what happens in the real world. He starts the class off by telling you what occurs in the real world in defensive encounters. Ken has gotten these facts from his study of civilian, police, and military engagements around the world for the last 35 years. Then he tells/ shows you what to practice, how to practice, and then how to assess your level of skill. If you want to shoot a thousand different drills this is not the class for you. If you want to shoot the same “filler” drills 10 times each until you master them and feel good about yourself, this is also not for you.

Real World fighting with a handgun:

1)Range that fights occur:
a)10yds or less (heavy on less)
b)In the real world, 10yds is long range in a handgun fight
c)A recent FBI study suggests that most LEO handgun engagements are measured in feet not yards.

a)80-87% of fights occur in low or limited light
b)The percentage is different depending on what study you look at and in what part of the country.

a)AKA bad guys present in a fight = 1-3

4)Shots fired:
a)Shootings (only one person fires) 1-4rds
b)Gunfights (at least 2 people are firing) = everyone emptied their guns

5)Actions of actors:
a)Moving (flee in the direction that your brain perceives is safety)
b)Side stepping: one step to the left or right is not consistent with reality
c)Train to keep moving.

What does that mean?

1)Your training should include shooting at 10yds or less mostly, movement, low light as much as possible, multiple targets and between 2-4rds when you fire shots during drills.

Random Notes:
1)Accuracy standard: cover with your hand, but it is even better if you can cover your shots with your fist.

2)If you carry a handgun for defense, carry a flashlight. If you have a weapon mounted light, still carry a handheld light.

3)Ken uses the force multiplier concept
a)This means that at some point almost everyone in the class has or will teach others how to shoot. He gives the students tips, tricks and techniques to get people shooting accurately.

4)Wound ballistic studies are skewed
a)Physiological stops versus psychological

5)Attorneys are prostitutes therefore you should have one!

6)Ken told us about how to talk to cops if you are involved in a defensive encounter

7)Do not lie to your attorney

8)A shooting will cost you $25,000 or more
a)Criminal and civil trials
b)Homeowners insurance is the target of the civil suit.

9)Ken talked about Use of force insurance plans
a)Armed citizens legal defense network and the NRA insurance program

10).357 sig destroys guns (all of them)

11)All true American Patriots own a 1911

12)H&K is coming out with a striker fired version of the P30. Ken has already told the guys at H&K that if they set the MSRP any higher the $650, only fan boys will buy it and it will not sell well otherwise.

13)Wilson combat is starting to do custom work on Berettas. Apparently, Bill Wilson loves Berettas.

14)In the real world there is no such thing as a firing line

15)Ken said that fire clean is an awesome lube


Ken hit on the various ready gun positions and these include high ready, low ready and position SUL. We next started with the fundamentals of shooting. Shooting accurately was broken down to two main issues and these were sights and trigger. Ken stressed throughout both days that pressing the trigger straight and to the rear as being way more important than sight alignment. He proved this fact to us on many occasions.

Trigger: Ken had us place a piece of brass on the front sight and we had to do 5 pulls in a row without the brass falling off to continue on. That showed us what a good trigger press looked like. Then we pressed the trigger for our partners while they left their finger relaxed on the trigger and aligned their sights on target. This showed us what a good trigger press felt like. Then we went into individual and partner assisted reset drills. Somewhere in there we input gross sighting errors while shooting to prove that as long as you press the trigger properly you will still get good hits even with a crappy sight picture.

Grip: Ken advised that you apply even pressure with both hands and that you grip the gun as tight as you can without causing cavitation in the gun. Stance was talked about next. Stance goes out the window when you start moving. However, keep the chin over knees a much as possible.

It wasn’t long before we were shooting our first few skill drills. On all the skill drills throughout the two days; if you pull a shot out of the A-zone it is a 1 sec penalty (C zone), if you make a hit in the D zone it is a 3 sec penalty. We did a bill drill (5 sec pass/ fail standard). Then the 1-2-3-4-5 drill aka the 1-5 drill. It is a 20 sec pass fail drill. Less than 20sec is ok, less than 15sec is good, and less than 10sec is awesome. The time penalties for bad shots will destroy your times as many people in the class found out.

We then did turns and pivots, and went on to the El pres drill. Then the shooting on the move started. Ken started off teaching us about the wobble zone which was an eye opener for me. It is something that I am going to work on more in the future. It is applicable to shooting on the move, but also very much applicable to long range shooting and making precision shots as well.

We shot on the move forward, rear, left and right. We then did the previous skill drills as before but while shooting on the move in all the various directions. The time and accuracy standards were the same. We then incorporated all four directions of movement into one drill called the compass drill. 3rds forward, 3rds rearward, 3rds right, and 3rds left. The compass drill is another 20 sec pass fail drill.

We broke for dinner at or around 5:30pm and came back to the range at 8:00pm to start the low light portion of the class. We shot in limited light with and without a flashlight then we went on to handheld light techniques. Ken stressed that you need a technique for right side and left side depending on what side of cover you are on. Ken covered Harries, Rogers and the neck index techniques.

In low light we LIE (locate, id, and engage). We started by lighting the target to ID, then move, shoot, and then move again. The muzzle flash is another light signature hence the reason that you need to move again after shooting. Then we went over light assisted where we kept the light on while we shot. We then conducted a bill drill with no light in the dark. This also proved to me that trigger is more important than sights. I placed the sights where I thought they should be (roughly), and then pressed the trigger correctly and was rewarded with good A zone hits.

Carry ammo and low light performance was discussed. The four colors of flash signature are white (worst), yellow (still not good), orange (you can live with that), and red (the best). If you had defensive ammo that you could spare, it was encouraged that you shoot it to see how it performs at night. Everyone came up in front of the class and told what ammo they had and fired a few rounds for the class to see. I personally carry either Federal HST’s, speer gold dots (LE), or Winchester Ranger SXT’s depending on availability. All of these ammo makes worked very well in low light. I was also surprised to see how well my training ammo (freedom munitions) did in low light. Considering it is not a defensive load, it did extremely well. TD1 was then over and we were sent on our way for some much needed sleep.

Side note: I think it is outstanding that Ken covers low light in his two day handgun course. I wish that other schools/ instructors would do the same. As many of you know; Ken is one of the best if not the best in the industry when it comes to low light work. The likelihood of an armed encounter occurring in low light conditions is very high. Yet, very few instructors offer low light courses and if they do; they are rarely if ever offered. The fact that Ken includes it in this course is outstanding.

Training Day Two (TD2):

TD2 we hit the ground running by starting with a Bill drill, then a Bill drill and El pres on the move. We then went into Hacks 3 sec headshot standards. Ken advised that 3.5sec from the holster is an acceptable standard. We then went into several Scott Warren inspired figure 8 drills. The figures 8’s were another 20 sec pass fail drill. A total of 8rds are fired in each drill. We did these laterally and forward and rearward.

We then ran the test and the half test drills on B8 targets. Ken then went into talking about how it is possible to make a good press of the trigger very fast and at human reaction time. We did a few drills to highlight that fact and he was right. We then went into SHO shooting with a few drills and then did the 1,2,3 drill at 5, 10, 20yds. Ken talked about the difference in locking the elbow out compared to unhinging the elbow when shooting one handed.

We then moved on to WHO shooting. The guns started on the ground. Some reps we would bend over, pick it up and fire standing and others we would pick it up and fire kneeling. Then we got into point shooting. Ken had us tape up our front and rear sights. We shot out to 10yds with great results without the use of our sights. We then did the compass drill again but this time with the sights tapped and people shot faster, and did as well or better than they did when they used their sights. We did one other drill that had the shooter running from station to station engaging targets. We did this with the sights tapped and then with the tape removed. It was crazy to see that the results were almost identical and the fact that the sights were tapped had no bearing on how well people shot at those ranges.

Ken used that to further prove how much more important trigger press was than sight alignment. All of the shots missed on these drills were due to improper trigger press and not sight alignment. The last drill of the day was the infamous snake drill. Everyone ran through it dry first and then live for 2 reps. This drill makes people nervous but I have done it before and have no problems doing that kind of thing.

Ken ended the day by talking about the training industry and the fact that in regards to the training industry, buyers beware. Ken is getting out of the industry so he couldn’t care less what other instructors have to say about him. He does not see anyone else in the industry as his competition. Military experience and a tour in Iraq does not give you a free pass at being a tactical firearms instructor. When he said that I laughed because I don’t know how many times I have said that over the last few years. Ken stated that Alias has the vast majority of the tier one instructors. Ken said that he was the grandpa of the bunch and was on the way out.

Ken is a true gentleman and did not bust anyone out by name but if you listen and think, you can pick up what he is getting at. This is especially true if you agree and have been thinking the same way for a while. Ken advised that you should avoid training-tainment. These are courses that are more entertainment that training.

Ken talked about how every community in America has a guy cooking meth, I mean Kydex, a guy that builds AR’s, and a guy that did a tour in Iraq and straps a thigh rig on and is the latest tactical firearms instructor. During the course you could see who had trained with good instructors, and those that had prior training with instructors that don’t really have much business in the industry.

Take a ways:

There are so many nuggets that I took from this class overall. It will take me sometime for my mind to wrap around everything and pick it out. I took 12 pages of notes, and could have taken twice that many if that tells you anything. The history behind Ken and the stories that he told was worth the price of admission. I will be studying my notes for some time to come and reflecting on the class frequently.

The wobble zone concept was a huge take away for me. I think harnessing this concept and apply it will really aid me in my accuracy at greater distances. Additionally, I had no trouble passing the skill drills and did very well on most of them. My accuracy was good. However, I need to get where I can maintain the level of accuracy that I had but do it faster. Also, everything that I do at the range skill wise will incorporate movement; maybe not every time, but a lot of the time for sure. Especially during skill assessments that are normally shot standing still.

Ken taught to unhinge the elbow when shooting one handed to change the recoil impulse of the handgun. Though it doesn’t work for everyone, it shows real promise for me. That is something that I am going to keep and work with in the future. Also, Ken talked about unhinging the elbows during shooting on the move. That is another take away that I will be working on at the range in the future.

In the back of my mind, I have always known that trigger press was more important than sight alignment and such. However, this course and Ken’s examples really let me see that first hand. I am convinced more than ever that trigger press is the cause of 99% of accuracy issues especially in regards to people that have been shooting a great deal. Getting the sights in the right general vicinity is easy for anyone. Pressing the trigger straight to the rear is not the easiest thing to do even for experienced folks.
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AAR Continued: It was too long for one post:

Ken is a great instructor, if he would have taught me under water basket weaving; I would have been happy. I could sit and listen to him talk for days. He is the kind of guy that tells you “what”, the “how” and the why behind it. He has a commanding presence that make you want to listen to what he has to say. He does not use big words and he does not beat around the bush. He is very straight forward in his approach and his ability to transfer information is among the best that I have seen. He isn’t trying to a make a name for himself; he is on his way out. Therefore he is very honest and tells you what he really thinks about certain things. Thanks to Ken, I now have new ideas for practice and even more things to think about in regards to defensive encounters as well as shooting in general. Ken might be 68 years old, but I hope I am half as switched on when I am his age.


1)We were told what was real, what to practice for, and how to practice for it. Honestly, that is what training is supposed to be. Then we were shown how to gauge our skills.

2)I like the fact that Ken takes classic drills, most of which he came up with and adds in movement to push one’s limits.

3)We shot less than 600rds in the two days. However, every shot was analyzed and accounted for. There was no time that we did mag dumps or blazed away for the fun of it. Less than 600rds under the watchful eye of Ken is plenty. No one was sad that we shot less than 600rds.

4)By taking Ken’s approach to training, it is very easy to conduct practice sessions that cover all the things that one needs in relation to the real world without expending tons of ammo a year.

5)Ken ran the class in relays. I like this concept a great deal and think it works very well.

6)I learned a great deal about other areas of the industry other than just shooting which is always a cool thing.

7)Ken teaching us how to better teach others was a great aspect of this class. One that I have not seen in any other class that I have done previously.

8)There are too many other positive aspects of this class to list them all. I am sure more will flood my mind in the coming days and weeks.


1)As of right now there is nothing that I can say negatively about the course, Ken as an instructor or what he teaches. That is saying a lot because I break down everything that I am taught and remember and try to apply it to every possible scenario that I can imagine in life and in my experience. Generally, there is anywhere from one to many things I disagree with. However, as of right now I think I am on the same page. Of course, I just got back and still going through everything. With that said, generally when something rubs me the wrong way I pick up on it right away and that did not happen in this course at all.
Awesome, awesome post. Hackathorn sounds like a true professional in his field. Thanks for your time in writing this!

Out of curiosity, did the training change your choices for equipment, gear, or ammunition, or did everything work to your satisfaction to where you'll continue to operate status quo?
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I'm intrigued by the statement that .357 sig destroys guns. I've never owned .357 sig, so I'm curious about how much more wear and tear they cause, over a .40.
one of the best AARs i've read in years! thanks possum

The first firearms class I ever took was from Ken (if you don't count hunter safety when i was like, 10yo and a bullseye class in college). I really wish I had the time/opportunity to take another.
I'm planning to take this class later in the year. I really appreciated this AAR. It has me looking forward to the class even more. Like you I have wanted to train with Mr. Hackathorn and also figure the window of opportunity to do so is closing.
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