An early morning in late September found me in the office of Gunsite CEO Ken Campbell before he had finished his first cup of coffee. He was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me before he made his first round of the classrooms and ranges. While his phone rang, and his secretary, Rikki, placed messages on his desk, Campbell told me about his vision for Gunsite’s future.
Tactical Life Gets Candid with Gunsite CEO Ken Campbell
Tactical Life: What is the secret to Gunsite’s staying power?
Campbell: In 1975 when Jeff and Janelle Cooper opened Gunsite it consisted of 162 acres. We’re up to 3,200 acres! So, we’ve grown exponentially under leadership of our owners, Buz and Sonja Mills.
I can name you a lot of shooting schools that went away when their founder retired or passed away. That’s not the case with Gunsite. Jeff Cooper envisioned a legacy. He envisioned something to go on and on, and we’re coming up on our 46th anniversary! The Modern Technique that he developed has evolved and continues to evolve so we keep moving forward!
TL: How did the pandemic affect Gunsite?
KC: Last year despite Covid and the pandemic, whatever it may or may not have been, and thanks to the constitution we’re an essential service and we never closed down. Classes dwindled for a bit early on. But we kept going and we still had ammo thanks to our partners at DoubleTap last year.
Towards the end of the year, it ramped back up with a vengeance and we ended up with our fifth record student year in a row! This year we’re exceeding last year’s projected numbers by 20 percent. Again, we still have ammo, thanks to DoubleTap. And now that Vista is backing Remington Ammunition, they’re working hard to keep us up and running with ammo.
But Gunsite is more than ranges and shoot houses. What keeps Gunsite relevant is its instructors who are able to instill Cooper’s combat mindset in their students and transform novices into proficient firearm handlers in less than a week.
TL: What do you look for in a potential instructor?
KC: A lot of places can teach you. But we can do it and make it fun. When you’re having fun, you learn. I call it dinner with a show, the military calls it command presence. It’s not something you can teach or instill in someone and some folks, despite their vast experience, just don’t have it. It’s hard to find people with this and willing to put in the time and effort to meet our prerequisites. We don’t want second best, so not everyone gets to be a Gunsite instructor.
When we lose an instructor, we lose decades of knowledge, experience and wisdom. We spend a great deal of time on instructor development because we recognize our instructors are Gunsite’s greatest asset! You’ll notice that they all have some salt and pepper in their hair. We have nothing against youthful energy and vigor, but it is experience we’re after. Cooper used the term, “They’ve seen the elephant,” and nearly all of our instructors have military or law enforcement backgrounds, and a majority of them have both.
TL: Gunsite is about to make some very big capital investments, what can you tell us?
KC: Like I said, our greatest resource is our instructors and when you have the best in the business you need to take good care of them. The old double-wide trailer that has served as a bunkhouse for our instructors will be torn down. Coming from my former life as a sheriff, we’re going to build a fire station for them. It will feature a big day room or common area, double rooms, a kitchen and laundry.
The office that we’re in right now has also exceeded its useful life so we’re going to build a new office, again nothing fancy or exotic. It’ll be spartan and that’s OK because we are a fighting school, and it will be in the warrior spirit. We’re also putting in a new Pro Shop with bigger and better storage and a new Gunsmithy shop will be put in adjoining it.
So, we’ve got some significant plans underway because we’re not just planning on next year, but we’re building structures for the next 25 to 30 years because Gunsite continues to carry on. We’re going to be here in 75 years, and Gunsite will carry on in the American spirit and Jeff Cooper’s vision.
Tactical Life would like to thank Ken Campbell for taking the time to speak with us and for his candor. If you would like more information on Gunsite Academy, please visit Gunsite.com.