Review: Chris Costa’s Premier Low Light Course
By Andrew Frazier, Thyrm
Training in low-light/no-light is a logistical nightmare for the average training company. Range hours, noise ordinances, and liability issues all conspire against night courses. Considering how rare they are, when Costa Ludus (www.costaludus.com) invited us to attend his Restricted Visibility Elements Theory (RVET) course in Wyoming we had our tickets bought, bags packed, and guns shipped faster than Senator Yee can make an illegal arms deal.
Photo by Weaponcraft LLC
Despite being a small populace, flying into Jackson Hole is easy enough thanks to its proximity to Yellowstone National Park and world class ski resorts. You get both barrels of the Grand Tetons the minute your head pops out of the aircraft door and the scenery doesn’t stop all the way into downtown Jackson. The city itself has maintained an old west’ feel through the decades but mostly now with boardwalks and saloon doors. The brothels, gambling houses, and open sewers are long gone… for better or worse.
Photo by Weaponcraft LLC
A ridiculously scenic hour drive south from Jackson puts you in Freedom, WY: It’s here, at the Northern end of the Star Valley, that Costa and his team built their headquarters aimed squarely at hosting students before and after full days of firearms instruction. Courses range from basic handgun marksmanship (HET1) to more advanced and specific offerings such as Vehicle Elements Theory (VET).
Photo by Costa Ludus
The Costa Ludus HQ loft, finished just prior to the first Premier course, looks like a well-lit Cabela’s man cave replete with flat screens, overstuffed leather couches, full kitchen, and fully-stocked Yeti coolers. The concept here is that students get extensive time to dig into Costa’s personal experience with gear, tactics, and 90’s era action movies- review the classics if you want to keep up. Extended question and answer sessions easily wove through the casual conversations during meals and prior to range time.
Photo by Costa Ludus
Also upgrading the experience were the shooting facilities. Rather than having to adapt to a host range on the road, Costa and his team were able to set up shop at a local range not too far from their HQ. Boasting multiple shooting bays, plenty of steel targets and shade; the only negative was a reasonable amount of dust that would kick up into peoples’ fields of view and into the actions of a few finicky race guns. We’ll take a moment to mention that our Sig556 piston gun ran 950+ rounds with no cleanings and no hiccups. And, that we are mentioning this fact out of jealousy after being subjected to an unending parade of top shelf Salients, Noveskes and LaRoue guns for three days straight. Although more gravel is due next month to mitigate the dust, we’d say it did a good job of reminding students what happens when they go urban prone with a JP muzzle brake in the real world. Lastly- brass clean up was taken care of- a serious luxury as we all plowed through close to a 1000 rounds of rifle and 700-rounds of pistol ammo over three days and nights.
A word or two on Costa’s teaching style: In addition to being highly entertaining, Chris does a very good job of teaching tactics through ample background information and examples that fit his audience. You will however, hear the phrase “this is what works best for me” and “this is based on my time doing. ” These qualifiers help to establish that the goal is not to indoctrinate students but to supply a set of tools and instructions that the student can evaluate, adopt, modify, or reject. There were instances where Costa would teach standard techniques for completeness sake, but made it clear that they did not have a place in his particular arena of combat. All this is a refreshing change from other training experiences.
The overall RVET curriculum involved teaching and shooting drills during the day, followed by many of the same drills at night. This had the advantage of allowing students to learn in stages and gave Costa the opportunity to tune student’s techniques while he could see them. Watching a bunch of students shining flashlights in broad daylight probably looked silly but it definitely helped prepare us for the evening sessions.
With night shooting as the primary emphasis of this course, Chris brought in some industry partners with low-light related products so students could test drive gear on the range. Consider for a moment, the advantages of running a new sight, light, or rig under pressure and in the dirt, rather than trying to visualize those experiences in a product showroom.
Though many students were running weapon-lights, Costa took the time to run through the traditional flashlight techniques for both pistol and rifle, mentioning the importance of knowing these techniques not only for instances when weapon-lights fail, but also when the firearms you’re using aren’t the ones you brought to the party. Additionally, there are also departments & units that currently prohibit weapon-lights or run equipment without rails.
Along those lines, all students received Thyrm’s (www.thyrm.com) Costa SwitchBack rings for their lights as part of the course. It was great to watch new shooters learning how to use the Switchback ‘en masse’ from the co-designer himself. Although there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, we noticed that students who have been deploying flashlights in conjunction with a handgun for many years took a little bit longer to wrap their hands and minds around the “flashlight-forward” SwitchBack Technique. Costa demonstrated how the SwitchBack technique can encourage a more natural, modified isosceles stance and allows the flashlight to be toggled on and off similar to a weapon-light.
In contrast, older techniques like the “Harries” require shooters to break their support arm downward and twist their body out of the generally advantageous “plates forward” isosceles stance. It’s a non-issue though as all techniques work with the SwitchBack. The polymer ring aligns with a traditional flashlight grip regardless.
Photo by Logan Fowler
Students were also shown how the SwitchBack allows the light to hang off the index finger allowing reloads and malfunction clearances without having to stow the light in an armpit, mouth, or engage in any excessive magazine/light juggling with the support hand.
On the second night, we saw the light. Hauling one of the largest pelican cases we’ve ever seen, Martin Highsmith from The Night Vision Company (www.tnvc.com) showed up with complete night vision rigs for students to try. Not just helmets with monoculars mind you, but also D-BAL infrared lasers, IR illuminators, FLIR, and even the specialized zeroing targets to dial-in student’s now-upgraded rifles. This was our first time running a complete NVD system and the capability upgrade was astounding. Obviously being able to see in the dark and paint targets with IR lasers is going to be an advantage, but it was watching pairs of students running drills with and without night vision capabilities that was most eye opening. Even when using white light judiciously for targeting and minimal navigation, student’s movements on the range were generally viewable, whereas the guys running night vision could only be pinpointed the moment they fired, and even then, if they were running a suppressor you’d be guessing half the time. Giving back the full kit to Martin after a few hours was one of the toughest parts of the course.
Also on hand was “The Monkey” himself from MSM (www.milspecmonkey.com) bringing plenty of his awesome morale patches, innovative nylon gear, and of course, his signature all-in attitude. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better shooter pound for pound, even when his hydration bladder is full.
Costa may vary the defensive weapons he carries from day to day, but he always rolls with Amorro, his Belgian Malinois. Costa Ludus has a close relationship with Svalinn (www.svalinn.com) , a local canine training company that produces some of the most obedient, stable, freakishly capable protection dogs available. Day three of the course started with a quick demo from the Svalinn team showing their dog’s ability to stand perfectly calm as a man in a bite suit approached, only to engage when interactions with their principle went south. Some of us travel a lot for work and the thought of having this kind of capability snoozing at the foot of the bed while we are abroad is very compelling.
Lastly, we wanted to warn you about the friendships that form at these kinds of courses. Having attended plenty of shooting courses before, we usually leave with the friends we brought. Adding the “destination” aspect to the mix means you spend more time with your classmates after hours, wolfing down meals, terrifying locals, etc. To be clear, this isn’t trauma bonding, or the product of like-minded individuals collocating. We believe it has more to do with the quality of the experience on all levels.
So should you consider booking a trip to Wyoming to shoot a Premier course? In general, yes. If you’re lucky enough to be in a place that Costa Ludus visits, you’re getting a full helping of what Chris has to offer, but the undeniable additions to facility, camaraderie, and scenery were well worth shipping our guns and jumping on a plane.
Photos thanks to Black Wire Studio: Damien was amazing at capturing the action & scenery. Check out more of his work atwww.blackwirestudio.com, Facebook: BlackWireStudioPDX, Instagram: @blackwirestudio
Sign up for Costa Ludus courses at: www.costaludus.com, facebook: official.chris.costa, Instagram: @costaludus. Get the Costa SwitchBack at hyrm: www.thyrm.com, Facebook: thyrmllc, Instagram: @thyrm. Get The Night Vision Company Gear here: www.tnvc.com, Facebook: tnvcinc, Instagram: @tnvc_inc. Milspec Monkey is here: www.milspecmonkey.com, Facebook: milspecmonkey