NTI VI: One Person's Perspective

by Mike R.
The sixth National Tactical Invitational was held at Gunsite Training Center near Paulden, Arizona May 29 through June 1, 1996. About 130 participants spent three days in the desert sun practicing their gunhandling skills (and learning from their mistakes) in some of the most realistic settings possible. The NTI VI consisted of ten stages of fire, seven with live ammo and three with modified 9mms that fired Simunitions "paintball" ammo.

For those of you that aren't familiar with the NTI "concept", the NTI is designed to be more of a training exercise than a competition. IPSC it ain't. There were no walk-throughs, and no one talked about stages to those who were yet to shoot. Most of the stages were designed to be as realistic as possible, with threats appearing and disappearing as you move about the stage. The targets took several forms, from your standard IPSC silhouette to a full 3-D "mannequin" that could be engaged from any direction. These targets were quite interesting, as solid center hits were required to get them to respond, and they would go head over heels when hit appropriately (this was really impressive!). All the targets were wearing clothes, of course. Some had weapons, some did not. Rapidly determining "friend or foe" was the participants problem. Well, one of the participant's problems.

In any case, most of the NTI courses were realistic enough to get your heart pounding, your adrenaline flowing, your hands shaking, and for one to become familiar with the stress effects that supposedly accompany a real gunfight. I don't doubt that the "real thing" is far worse, but I now know for certain that the effects _do_ occur. Seeing your sights is tough, but frankly, my bullets seemed to be hitting the targets without much need for sighting. I guess I was point shooting-- I honestly don't know. I remember seeing the sights when difficult shots presented themselves, but otherwise-- I never saw them. The targets kept falling, though.

The Rules

There were not many rules at the NTI, though there were a lot of suggestions made to improve your performance (and your ability to survive in a real-world gunfight, I might add). The NTI literature always cites three rules: no stupid gunhandling, no boorish behavior, and no sniveling. Basically, treat your fellow man with respect, and take responsibility for your actions.

The guns used had to be practical. No extended mags, optical sights, or compensators were allowed. (Some people actually carry such things, but the NTI organizers want to avoid the "arms race" that has plagued IPSC.) Law enforcement officers and military personnel, if in uniform, could carry openly. Everyone else had to carry concealed. One extra magazine was allowed for double-stack guns, two for single stack guns. One backup gun could be carried, but without any additional ammo. Other equipment was pretty much up to the participant, though the equipment had to be carried exactly the same way for each stage.

The judges encouraged a laundry list of useful tactics for moving and engaging targets. For instance, don't walk down the center of a hallway. Stay to one side, but don't rub the wall (it makes noise). Keep track of your shadow when moving by doorways. This could give you away to someone inside. Reload EVERY TIME it's safe to do so. Etc. Of course, the usual tactical guidelines related to cover and concealment were expected.

The Stages

Stage One-- Tactical Gun Handling
This stage would seem pretty familiar to IPSC shooters. There were six exercises to be accomplished, including a mixture of strong and weak-hand drills. Shooting from around barricades, shooting while moving to cover, tactical reloads, etc. All shooting was timed, and targets were standard IPSC silhouettes wearing shirts. Unlike IPSC, you got points for doing things like _not_ stopping until all targets were neutralized, even if time ran out, and for reloading immediately when it was clear that you were done. A mistake I made was de-cocking my gun, and going to reholster it after engaging one set of targets. While this is a fine safety precaution on the range, it is most definitely NOT what one should do against real opponents. I rationalize that this was due to the range-like atmosphere of this stage-- I did not do this in any other stage. But it does point out the problem of reverting to your most ingrained training under stress. My training in the future will be somewhat different, no "it's over, make the gun safe" mental shift after shooting. Now I will make sure I carefully evaluate the target before consciously deciding to make the gun safe.

Stage Two-- Bull Pen
This took place outside the Fun House. It consisted of a hallway, where targets would swing out of doorways momentarily. Each target was wearing clothes, and had some sort of sticker on it. Some stickers were weapons, some were innocuous items like cameras. After it was over, it appeared that the only thing the judges were looking for was whether or not the shooters moved out of the center of the hallway. I believe this was to study our reactions, more than to score us in any way (I believe the organizers are using the participants as guinea pigs to some extent, in order to research just _how_ people react, presumably to perfect teaching methods. This is purely speculation on my part, however.). This stage was shot from three different positions in the hallway.
The most interesting thing to me about this stage was the realization that people DO tend to shoot at the enemy's weapon. I clearly saw holes appearing in the stickers, over and over again.

Stage Three-- The Shotgun
Someone has taken one of your relatives hostage. They are inside this house. You are unarmed, but find (lucky you) a pump 12-gauge and some ammo (slugs and buckshot) outside. You have ten seconds to familiarize yourself with the workings of the shotgun, then three minutes to clear the house, rescue the hostage, and get out alive. Go!

This building had three rooms and a hallway, if I recall correctly. There were some windows that let you engage targets outside the building, and to shoot at least one bad guy from outside the room he was in. Ammunition regulation and awareness was key here (that means I ran the thing dry). The indoor targets were all the 3-D "mannequin" type that I have mentioned before, and boy, did the shotgun do a number on them.

This was a lot of fun, and very instructive. Before I describe my mistakes, I would like to state for the record that I am not a frequent shotgun user, and not very familiar with pump guns. I've already mentioned my difficulties with ammunition regulation. It sounds like it should be easy to keep the gun topped off-- especially a shotgun, but under stress, that wasn't the case. The second thing I learned did not come out until the next day when my travel partner asked me how I had liked the ghost-ring sights on the shotgun. Funny, I didn't know it had ghost-ring sights. I'm embarrassed, but I never saw them. I suppose my ten second familiarization did not include this vital bit of hardware.

Stage Four-- Let There Be Light I
This was a building-clearing exercise, in a dark building. I should have used my flashlight but didn't, and as a result I killed some "good guys" by mistake. One door opened up on you as you passed it, and a bad guy appeared. After exiting the building, there were some targets outside as well.

Stage Five-- It's Not Over Yet
You have just exited a building, into a group of people (five or so). Some are bad guys, some may not be. You are allotted two seconds. Deal with it.

The trick here was to do something physical to the targets in contact range. While this didn't get you any more time, it impressed the judges. It would also, of course, be the correct thing to do in a real-life encounter. Your gun would be of little value otherwise.

Stage Six-- Trouble, Twice as High
This was Cap'n Dick's bar. His bar had an upstairs, too (hence the title). Otherwise, it was a building-clearing exercise, but on two floors. One window popped open, with a bad guy on the other side of it, and one door popped open (I think that one had a good guy inside). Several doors to open, and one that had to be opened while standing on a staircase and trying to avoid being shot from a bunch of different directions. That door opened outward and had a return spring, too. Not easy, but a lot of fun. Always look under the staircase though, even when going down (you can figure out what this means, I'm sure).

Stage Seven-- The Thugs
Very similar to stage five. In fact, virtually identical to stage five. Nice to have another chance.

The Simunitions Stages

There were three guns available to shoot with, a Sig (I'm not sure of the model), a Browning Hi-Power, and a Beretta 92. Unfortunately, as there were multiple participants going through these stages simultaneously, no one got their choice of these guns. This was a bit of a handicap, as it was hit or miss whether or not the gun would fit your holster.

A word about Simunitions: they are not "balls", they are plastic bullet-shaped projectiles that contain paint, and leave the barrel at about 400 fps. They make bruises that are much uglier than those left by ordinary paintballs, though I was told that the sensation is comparable. I did not get hit anywhere "outside" my body armor, so I can't comment on this personally.

The "actors" in these stages were members of the Yavapai County SWAT team. An interesting bunch of guys, and damned fine sports too. They are to be commended, and thanked profusely, for spending three days in the desert to help us NTI participants learn a thing or two about the ugly side of human relations.

Stage Eight-- The Alley
You have been tasked with making it through an alley (complete with disheveled occupants), to get to your car. Now I agree that this is unrealistic, but hey, I didn't fly to Arizona to pass up anything. The exact situation that developed as you traveled down the alley varied from person to person (the SWAT team guys changed around who did what, and where they were hiding). There were always two or three bad guys around, though.

Stage Nine-- The Pizza Shop
You go into a restaurant to pick up a pizza, but it's not ready yet. You sit down to wait, and two disreputable characters enter. One comes over and sits down next to you (you and the proprietor are the only other occupants). The other walks over to the proprietor and pulls a knife on him. Try to get out alive, preferably with the proprietor still breathing.

Stage Ten-- Let There Be Light II
You are at an acquaintance's house, in the living room, when she goes into the back of the house for something. Then she starts yelling, "They have guns!". Get her (and you) out alive.

In this one, one actor came crashing through the door into the living room almost immediately. He was a good guy, in my scenario. After going through that door, I encountered a man holding a woman with a knife to her throat. Further down the hallway, around a corner, was a man hiding in a darkened area, ready to shoot anyone foolish enough to come past without the utmost of care. This scenario was called "Let there be light" because the light from the exit would blind you to the man hiding in the dark. A clever design.

Who was there

It was pretty much a normal looking crowd, except for all the safari vests and clip-knives hanging out of pockets. There were plenty of police officers, both from the U.S. and other countries. There were some participants whose names you may recognize, including Massad Ayoob, Ted Nugent, John and Vicki Farnam, and Greg Hamilton. There were also plenty of other folks like me who were there to learn, merely for their own protection.

The Equipment

More 1911-pattern .45s were present than any other gun, but there were plenty of Glocks (of all calibers) in evidence as well. Some SIGs, Berettas, and even a few (!!) revolvers. One gentleman carried a 4" .38 as primary armament, and a 6 1/2" .38 as backup! He did quite well, according to the other members of his shooting "squad".

Regardless of one's choice of gun, virtually everyone carried a clip-knife, like a Spyderco, Benchmade, Cold Steel, etc. Also, most folks seemed to carry a Sure-Fire flashlight. The holsters used were mainly scabbard or IWB styles, with a few shoulder holsters and fanny packs thrown in for good measure.

The Classes

A variety of seminars were conducted at different times during the NTI. Some were merely lectures, but others were hands-on. I especially enjoyed the classes given by Greg Hamilton and the InSights Training Center instructors. They impressed me with their practical approach to tactics and training.

Some of the seminars/classes given:

Lessons learned:

So I learned a lot from the NTI. It was a great experience, and I'm looking forward to next year, assuming I can get another invitation.

Contacting the ATSA

(Sponsors of the National Tactical Invitational)

A.T.S.A (American Tactical Shooting Association)
2600 North Third St.
Harrisburg, PA 17110
(717) 232-0402

NOTE: As of this writing (Sept 1, 1996) there is some doubt as to whether another NTI will be held. I would strongly encourage anyone interested in attending to write and join the ATSA as soon as possible. If interest continues to grow, maybe these exercises will continue to be held. It will be a real shame if this was the last NTI.

Copyright 1996 by B&R, Co. Reproduction in any form, in whole or in part, is prohibited without prior written permission of B&R, Co.
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