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This past weekend, Nate and I went hunting at Serenity Valley. Although our hunt was a failure, we had plenty of fun enjoying the facilities and company the Haas' so generously offered us. We are very thankful to have had the opportunity to spend so much time there over the past month or so.

One of the many amazing features of Serenity Valley is the "Shoothouse". For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, a shoothouse is (predictably) a "house" set up in an area that is safe to shoot. The "house" in this case is built using tarps, wooden frames, ropes and trees, and is designed to simulate a basic structure. Using this framework, one can actively attempt to solve a scenario in which an individual must enter a structure through a simulated door, negotiate rooms, corridors and blind corners while dealing with potential threats, hostages, race car drivers and innocents represented by paper targets.

Very few training facilities (including police ranges) have access to a shoothouse because of the difficulty and expense in setting one up safely. The owners of Serenity Valley have, fortunately, found an ideal location where one can be set up at a reasonably low cost and was kind enough to allow Nate and I to play around in it when it was not being used by the students in the training class.

The shoothouse allowed me to make a number of observations. First of all, I'd like to say that if I had to clear a structure of bad guys, I'd be very happy to have Nate at my side. He shoots quickly, accurately and moves confidently.

Secondly, actively rehearsing for clearing a structure makes actually clearing it amazingly easier. If you've already stepped through a structure and identified the steps you're going to take, how you're going to move and where areas of concern are, your mind can focus on identifying, evaluating and if necessary engaging targets rather than "What do I expose myself to if I step through that doorway?", "How many openings does this room have?" and all the other considerations that you have to think through. Better to work those out beforehand rather than when you're in the situation.

Third, shooting in a structure is entirely different from shooting on a range. If you've never pied into a room and had a target come into view, it's hard to know how and when you will shoot. I tend to step around until I have a clear view of the target before firing, which could be good or could be bad depending on the situation. Additionally, the sound is different, the feel is different and the movements are different. Mr. Haas told us about running some of his shooting students through the shoothouse and having them miss the targets entirely from less than ten feet. The difference is amazing. I'm proud to say that Nate and I didn't have that much of a problem, but I certainly noticed the difference and I'm sure my accuracy wasn't where it should be given the range. Also, I found myself shooting more. On the range I'd know how many shots I'd want to put on target and just do it. In the shoothouse, I'd shoot until I felt I'd put enough good hits on target. Sometimes that would be one or two shots. Other times I'd stitch it up with three or four - even if it turned out all my shots had been good ones. One way or another, I'd run out of ammo more quickly than I'd ordinarily expect.

Fourth, as much as shooting in a structure is different, working with flashlights in a dark structure changes things even more. Nate and I conducted a few runs through the darkened shoothouse. He used his Surefire and I used my poor-man's Surefire (a Brinkmann MaxFire). Before I ran through it at night, I hadn't considered some of the very important issues that arise when you've got a flashlight in your hand. Have you practiced reloading with a flashlight? When reloading, do you leave it on or switch it off until you complete the reload? Do you click the light on, or use the momentary flash feature? How does the partially supported, one-handed grip on your pistol affect your ability to shoot quickly? How does the directed light source change your sight picture?

Finally, the shoothouse emphasizes the importance of knowing where your bullets go. The Serenity Valley shoothouse has three shootable walls. You can't fire back toward the wall with the door on it. In actuality, you could safely fire at a portion of that wall, but the rule is a good one and keeps things safe. Beyond being careful where you place targets, you have to worry about where you take shots as you're running the course. This is good practice. Do you know which walls on your home are safe to shoot through? Do you know where the bullet will go if you take an angled shot? When you run into a room in the shoothouse and notice that you can look through a cluster of holes to where you were standing as you fired at a target just moments before, it makes you think a bit.

It was a very, very instructional experience and I can't wait to do it again. If you haven't had the opportunity to run a shoothouse, try to find some training that includes that as an option. I know that Mr. Haas runs small classes every now and again for a very reasonable price, but I'm not sure how much time he has to dedicate to it. If there is any interest in taking one of his classes, send me an email or contact me through the "Contact Site Administrator" link in the menu with contact information and I'll discuss it with him to see if and when he has the time.
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