Book Review: Inside the mind of a training icon — Urban Rifle: 45 years of teaching and training

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Clint Smith’s Urban Rifle: 45 years of Teaching and Training can be bought through the Thunder Ranch website for $24.95. (Photo: Nate Parker)

Thunder Ranch has been in the existence for almost longer than I have been alive. If you don’t know what Thunder Ranch is, it is Clint Smith’s training company based out of Oregon. If you don’t know who Clint Smith is, well, you need to fix that. Anyone with the staying power of Clint in the firearms training industry is probably doing something right. To stick around for so many years teaching defensive firearms in the private sector is no easy task, and probably lends some credence to what Clint is doing.

There have been Thunder Ranch DVDs over various training topics for quite a while, and I will say that Clint’s personality probably comes across better in video than in print, but now there is a Thunder Ranch book, that covers what Clint believes about using the “carbine” for personal protection or duty use. This book has been a long time coming from what I understand, and condenses over 30 years of experience from teaching an Urban Rifle program into 137 pages. It is in essence a compilation of nuggets of information or instructional points all related somehow to running the rifle. While not meant to be AR-15 specific, given the proliferation of the AR-15 in today’s America, it is weighted toward that platform. Clint being who he is though, there is still some variety and less common rifles discussed in this book.

Clint’s general take on the rifle is that even though the firearm type is capable of being used at longer ranges, more times than not, it is used inside pistol range. In the book, he states that the Urban Rifle program focuses on the 0-100 yard envelope, and most engagements probably happen well within those 100 yards. Clint first taught Urban Rifle as a class in 1983, and at the time, it was a hard sell. However, over time, perhaps as the popularity of the carbine and more specifically the AR-15 has grown, the course has become one of the cornerstones of the Thunder Ranch program. That means Urban Rifle has existed as a class for 34 years, and all of that experience and knowledge has been worked into this book. It should be a clue to the rest of us that if a course has survived the market for over 3 decades, the content likely has some merit.

There are 25 chapters in the book. If you do the math, that is only, on average, 5 pages per chapter. There are also a not insignificant number of photos in the book to give visual representation of whatever is being discussed in the specific chapters. This sort of mimics Clint’s personal speaking style in videos, as he is usually very concise. That does not always translate well to a book where a few more words might be required to get the point across, but in this case I think it works very well, and helps to keep the reader engaged in my opinion. Having such short sections also lends itself to using the book as a true “how-to” guide while on the range. It is pretty easy to jump around to different sections of the book, find the information needed, and then apply it. It does not require me to read 2-3 pages of text to find the one little nugget of information I was looking for. At most, I might have to read a couple paragraphs before I have likely found what I was after.

While I would say that the book has some older techniques in it, or things you generally won’t see a younger generation of instructors teaching at least, it is still very solid. The techniques that worked 20 years ago for the most part still work. They perhaps are not as optimized for specific circumstances, but will still get the job done if executed well. The book really focuses in on fundamentals of shooting, but also covers what I would call fundamentals of defensive firearms use, including topics like use of cover and what constitutes cover vs. concealment. How to search around corners, what ready positions to use and why use them, how to clear basic malfunctions, and shooting on the move are all covered in addition to the actual shooting part of the equation.

If someone were to come up to me and ask what book I would recommend for them to read if they were brand new to defensive use of the carbine, Urban Rifle would be one of my top recommendations. It is well structured, contains pertinent information with regard to defensive use of the rifle that is applicable to all end users, and the quality of information is solid. Urban Rifle is truly a zero to hero book. It starts at the beginning of the learning paradigm and ends on topics like low light shooting and use of illumination tools. If you cannot get to an actual Urban Rifle course at Thunder Ranch and want to get inside the mind of arguably one of the most successful firearms instructors in the business, here is your chance.