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There’s More to Self Defense Than Marksmanship

September 3, 2010

Students on the firing line There’s a lot more to prevailing in a self-defense situation than just shooting skills. At Integrated Personal Defense, we don’t just teach you how to shoot; we teach you how to fight.

Shooting is a big part of this, but so are a wide range of other skills. Skills that will help you avoid a fight and place yourself in an advantageous position before the fight starts. Learn how to fend off an attack with empty hands until you can get to your gun, keep from getting shot while you stop your attacker, and be prepared to deal with additional threats after you think the fight is over. Not to mention the knowledge you need to remain free and fiscally solvent after you defend yourself. We teach you all of these skills, integrated seamlessly so you will be able to apply them in the real world, not just on the range.

Together with Training for Life LLC, Integrated Personal Defense provides Suarez International training classes in South Carolina. We offer a full range of handgun and rifle classes. We have courses for everyone from the novice shooter looking for their first self-defense class to the experienced operator looking for advanced skills. Come train with us.

S.I. South Carolina Labor Day Event

October 2, 2011

Alex Nieuwland and I decided to put together an invite-only event for alumni of our Close Range Gunfighting classes on Labor Day. Not a very big turnout for this one, but that just meant Alex and I got to do more shooting.

We decided to organize this along the lines of a group I shot with back when I lived out in Salt Lake called the Utah Polite Society. We did a couple of drills for a warm up, then moved on to the a series of live fire scenarios. This being an S.I. forum, I’ll lead with the disclaimer that the best way to do scenario based training is Force on Force. However, if you just throw someone with no FoF experience right into a scenario, they often end up a bit overwhelmed. We haven’t hosted a FoF class here in Columbia yet, so we don’t really have a base of FoF experienced students to draw from (shameless plug: Randy Harris will be teaching Force on Force here in October, sign up now!). That said, doing these FoF would have meant that Alex wouldn’t have gotten a chance to play with his shotgun.

Drills

We started out with a basic draw and fire drill, to make sure everybody had the drawstroke down and was on the same page as far as basic gunhandling was concerned. Next we worked getting off the X to the left and right. As expected everyone was pretty familiar with the basic S.I. skills.

The third drill is one we did often in Utah called “What’s My Number”. The shooter walks a triangular path around barrel. Downrange are five targets, numbered 1-5. The RO calls out a couple of numbers and the shooter has to engage those targets. This is still a pretty basic drill, but it starts to incorporate some decision making: Where are the targets he called? Which one do I shoot first? Do I GOTX, or use the barrel for cover? There’s quite a bit going on for such a simple drill.

Just Another ATM Exercise

This was another old standby from Utah. ATMs are a favorite of many criminals, since by definition the customer has access to money. I set this up like the ATM at the bank I use: a glass enclosed room on the exterior of the bank building where you swipe your card for entry. In fact the resemblance was strong enough that Alex was able to identify the bank just by my description of the ATM. A barricade represented the ATM itself, and the glass walls were a rope hung off of some target stand sticks at about waist level, so it would obstruct movement, but not bullets.

Downrange were an array of targets. Those that were hostile had cardboard guns hung around their necks, while non-threats were unarmed. The locations of the targets and threat indicators change for each shooter. To make things a bit more interesting, I covered the targets in t-shirts. This both prevents you from seeing the scoring rings, forcing you to use your best judgment as to the proper upper chest target area, and it means that you can’t see your hits, which is consistent with what many people report in real life gunfights.

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The scenario starts with the shooter facing the ATM while the targets and threat indicators are moved around. The start signal is something realistic, such as, “Yo motherfucker, gimme the money!” At this, the shooter turns around and has to solve the problem.

Unlike most gun game stages, because the position of the targets and threats is unknown, this sort of scenario places a lot more emphasis on you OODA loop. In a very real way it’s a test of how fast you can think, rather than how fast you can shoot.

On this first scenario, we had a couple of people shoot through targets into non-threats. I escaped having one through sheer dumb luck, I blazed away at a target with a non-threat behind it and just happened not to put any rounds through one target into the other. This sort of tunnel vision on the threat you see is one of the things we need to against. A bad background doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t shoot, but that should be a decision you make deliberately. Alex demonstrated another expression of that same problem when he engaged a target ten yards away without even noticing the one about three yards off to his right.

These scenarios don’t involve any sort of timer or point-based scoring where you get ranked against other shooters. There’s a quick after action debriefing that runs through about a dozen questions, asking about things like how many of the threats you neutralized and whether you went through a proper after-action drill. It all boils down to just the last four questions: Did you survive? Did anyone you were supposed to protect survive? Did you avoid being successfully sued? Did you avoid going to prison? In a gunfight, these are really the bottom line.

Elvis has Entered the Building
The next scenario has you sitting at home watching TV when you hear someone kick in your front door. You have a loved on in the other room, so staying put isn’t an option. We set up a sort of hallway/doorway with a few barricades to give a chance to exercise some room clearing skills.

At this point I realized it would be good to have some pictures, so we’ve got a nice sequence of Alex going through the scenario.

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Alex, about to have his favorite reality show rudely interrupted.

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Notice Alex doing a very good job of exposing only his eyeball and gun muzzle.

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Switches hands for the left hand corner.

Alex did a real nice job with this one, though he ran into a bit of trouble when his gun went dry and he decided to draw the second Glock rather than reloading. Problem was the gun was in his left hand at the time, so he had to swap hands, then draw the second gun. Probably would have been faster to just reload.

Check Please!
This scenario begins with you seated in a restaurant with your wife/girlfriend when a robbery kicks off. Unfortunately the only exits involve moving past the bad guys. You’ve got to decide what to do and deal with the problem.

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Alex enjoying a nice meal.

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Getting off the X and engaging the bad guys.

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Dragging his girlfriend off by the target stick.

When I shot this scenario, Alex had to do quite a bit more than announce the robbery to actually get me to react. I’m not being paid to protect the restaurant’s till. I’ve thought through this kind of situation and figured out what my red lines are and what sort of things are going to trigger a reaction. Once I got going, however, I let fly pretty good. On this one I ran my primary gun dry and switched to the second gun.

Bump in the Night

I hadn’t been planning on running this scenario, but the bench available that was about the right size to stand in for a bed, so I improvised a bit. You’re asleep in bed when you’re awakened by someone battering your door down. You’ve got a young child in the house, so bunkering up in the bedroom isn’t an option. A couple of barricades divide the bedroom from the room beyond.

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My nightstand.

The happy stick really gave me a warm fuzzy feeling knowing I had all those rounds before I had to reload (especially considering that my reload was stuffed into a pocket rather than being in a mag carrier, since I don’t wear a gunbelt to bed).

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Alex brought his shotgun, so he was really able to give the intruders a good welcome (he’s teaching Dynamics of the Shotgun on November 11th).

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After switching shoulders to pie the other corner.

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An eyesocket full of buckshot.

Conclusions
Overall I think this went pretty well. This was a bit of a test run, but it seemed like a good time was had by all. I was really happy to get a chance to do this sort of stuff again after being away from Utah for three years. I think we’ll probably be doing this again sometime early next year. If you’re an S.I. alumni in the neighborhood, keep an eye out for an announcement.

An RMR Will Make You a Better Shooter

October 2, 2011

If you read the Warriortalk News blog or hang out on the Warriortalk forum, you’ve probably already heard about the truly fantastic shooting performance that a SI TSD pistol with a Trijicon RMR red dot sight mounted on the slide makes possible. Hits out to 200 or 300 yards are doable. Hitting a torso sized target at 100 is almost easy, as are headshots at 25 yards. At seven yards, you’re choosing which eye socket you want the round to go through. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if I said that you’ll shoot better with an RMR than an iron sighted gun. That’s not quite what I’m saying here, however. What I’m saying is that if you take the time to master a TSD pistol with an RMR, it will make you a better shooter even with an iron sighted pistol.

I was led to this conclusion by two recent experiences with TSD pistols:

I have always used the stock 5.5 pound Glock trigger. This was not based on some fear of liability or any of the other reasons for sticking with the stock trigger weight that are floating around out there, I simply never felt that the trigger weight inhibited my accuracy. That changed when I shot my TSD G17, particularly at longer ranges. As I concentrated intently on pressing the trigger smoothly to the rear, the trigger weight would stack up and the dot started wavering from side to side. I was still able to hit at a hundred yards, but it was obvious that the trigger weight, particularly right before the break, was having an effect on my accuracy. I’ve since installed the Lone Wolf 3.5 pound connector and there’s definitely a noticeable improvement.

The second incident that led me to this conclusion came when fellow S.I. instructor Alex Nieuwland and I were shooting our TSD Glocks the other day. Alex tested his carry load, shooting about a handspan sized group at 50 yards. When he switched to Winchester White Box practice ammo, however, he had trouble keeping it on the 3’x4’ target. We went through several different brands of practice ammo (Winchester, Federal, Magtech, American Eagle, and Wolf) and found enormous variation in accuracy at this distance.

What do trigger pull and testing different practice loads have in common? In both cases the RMR exposed existing issues with the gun and ammunition that we hadn’t been aware of when shooting with iron sights. Putting the RMR on didn’t make my trigger pull or Alex’s practice ammo worse, it just laid bare their deficiencies. It will do the same thing to your shooting skills.

Maintaining a proper sight alignment is one of the most difficult elements of sighted fire with a pistol. It is difficult to teach, and difficult to perform in practice. When shooting at long ranges (or very small targets) even small variations can lead to large effects. One millimeter of front sight misalignment will result in being off over half a meter at 100 meters. The RMR eliminates this. There is no need to align front and rear sights with the target, just put the dot on it. Eliminating sight alignment as a source of error not only makes your shooting more accurate, it also means that other sources of error are much more obvious. With iron sights an unsteady hold, improper trigger press, flinch, inaccurate ammo, or a heavy trigger may be masked by variations in sight alignment. With a red dot, these effects are obvious, both on the target, and in many cases in the visible movement of the dot as the shot breaks.

The other way that mastering an RMR will make you a better shooter is by pushing you to practice shots that you might not even have attempted with iron sights. Before I got my TSD Glock, I seldom shot beyond seven yards, and almost never beyond 25. Once I shot my pistol at 100 yards on a lark, but I wasn’t really serious about it. Knowing what a TSD gun is capable of has pushed me to put considerably more effort into my long range skills, and in making very accurate hits at closer ranges (eye sockets on photo targets in particular). Shooting at longer ranges will make even small accuracy problems evident. A flinch that throws a bullet a few inches low at seven yards might take it completely off the target at 100. Longer range shooting really demands complete concentration and close to perfect technique.

If you put in the time and practice to truly master an RMRed pistol you will eliminate a lot of small errors that were either obscured by sight alignment or invisible at shorter ranges. When you shoot a pistol with only iron sights, you will have to deal with the traditional issues of sight alignment.  However, you will retain the improvements you learned with the RMR. Your overall shooting skills will have made a giant step forward.  A TSD gun with an RMR won’t just make you shoot better with that gun, it will make you a better shooter with any pistol.

Guerilla Sniper

September 9, 2011

Over Fourth of July weekend I took the Guerilla Sniper class from Eric Pfleger.  This class is a bit of a departure for me. I’ve never done any precision rifle work, or even owned a gun with a magnified optic until a few months ago. This class was well outside my comfort zone, but if I don’t leave the comfort zone I’m not gonna learn anything.

I shot the class using a Savage Model 10FP in .308. I mounted a Burris Fullfield II 3-9x40mm scope on it. This is a pretty basic bolt gun, but it’s a very nice shooter; definitely more accurate than I am. The scope is far better than it’s pricetag would indicate (Burris always seems to punch above its weight in optics). However, the best thing about this setup is that I got the rifle in trade for a HK pistol I don’t even shoot anymore, so the only cash I’ve got in it is the optic.

The rifle was still flat black, which would stand out a bit during the stalking phase. When I mentioned painting it a few weeks ago Eric turned me on to a great product called CammoForm. It’s cloth tape similar to the Ace bandages that stick to themselves, except it’s camo rather than flesh toned. It sticks to itself rather than the rifle, so you can pull it off without leaving any residue. It works great to quickly camo up a rifle and you can remove it and get back to your original condition. I wouldn’t mind painting this gun, but if you want to bring a gun you don’t want to paint to a GS class (one with a nice wood stock, for instance) a roll or two of CammoForm would work great for temporarily camouflaging it.

My ammo was all Prvi Partizan 175 grain FMJ Boat Tailed match ammo. It shot well in my gun and for 73 cents a round I didn’t have to flinch from the price every time I pulled the trigger.

I also brought along my RMRed Glock 17, for transition drills and general self-defense use.

The class had a slight majority of semi-auto rifles, but there were bolt guns in evidence as well. The bolt guns included a couple of savages and a Winchester, plus Eric’s HS Precision Remmington 700. On the semi-auto side of things there were two FALs, one AR in .308 and one in 6.5 Grendel, and one M1A. Optics included a couple of Burrises, a Nikon, and one Counter-Sniper.

Of particular note is the rig that Alex Nieuwland was running. He wanted to come to this class, but didn’t have a long range rifle yet. I mentioned this to Eric at the Applegate point shooting class two weeks ago, and Eric said he’d be happy to lend Alex a .30-06 deer rifle that he keeps at his Mom’s house in Indiana in case he wants to go hunting out there. This is an off the rack Winchester from the ’80s. It has a trigger that’s reasonable, but not great. Alex described it as sending a telegram to the trigger and waiting until it fired. It’s topped with a simple duplex scope (thin crosshairs in the middle, which turn to thicker posts further out). There are no field adjustment or drop markings on the reticule. This is the kind of gun that’s in many closets across America and Alex did quite well with it.

To round out my optics, I also brought a pair of Burris binoculars (came with the scope) and a Burris fixed power 20x50mm spotting scope. This little spotter is another gem. Very compact, inexpensive, and good quality. The magnification isn’t super high, but 20x is quite sufficient for most purposes. Unfortunately, it’s out of production, but you can pick them up on eBay for under $50. This only arrived the day before I left for the class and I didn’t have a tripod yet, so Alex Nieuwland provided one.

I brought an Eagle Industries pack both to carry my gear and as a rest to shoot off of. To make it function a bit better in the latter role I attached a S.O.Tech forestock saddle rest, which helps grip the rifle and keep it from sliding around on the bag. I got a TAB Gear rear bag to support the stock, and a shooting mat. When I traded for it, the rifle came with a knockoff of the Harris bipod, so I brought that as well. I also picked up my first camo for the class, some old style woodland BDUs. Along with a sniper veil, I figured this should help cut down on my visibility.

Finally, since this is the middle of the summer, I brought a shemagh and broad brimmed hat to keep the sun off and lots of water and other cold drinks to keep hydrated.

Alex Nieuwland and I drove up to Cambridge, Ohio on Thursday. I’d taken almost the same drive two weeks ago for the Applegate Combat Point Shooting class in Athens, Ohio. It was nice to have someone to talk to and trade off on the driving. We met Eric for dinner Thursday night. He forewarned us that we’d be shooting from downrange, near the targets Friday morning, so we spent the evening making sure our rucks were loaded up and ready to go.

Friday

We got up early and convoyed out to the range. Once there, Eric figured out that while he’d requested an 8:00 start time for the class, on the S.I. website it said 9:00. So we had a bit of a wait until the last student showed up just before 9:00.

The class had eight students, including three S.I. staff instructors (John McCreery, Alex Nieuwland, and myself). Some of the students had fairly extensive hunting experience but many, like me, had very little previous experience with scoped rifles.

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This class was held at Thunder Valley Precision, a facility that can only be described as magnificent. The owner makes precision rifles and suppressors, and is a world record holder for the smallest group and best score at 1000 yards. The range is spread out over quite a spread of rolling, grassy hills. From where we were shooting, there were target stands at 600 and 1000 yards, steel targets about every hundred yards out to 1000, and a hill in the distance where you could shoot out to a mile. In addition, there’s a short 100 yard range running from the right end of the firing line at a right angle to the main range. This proved very useful allowing Eric to pull off two-man teams for individual exercises while the rest of us kept banging steel out on the main range. The terrain is quite varied and includes some woodland, brush, and tall grass for stalking exercises.

We started with the usual waivers, both on paper and on video. Then Eric described the context of the class. He called this a, “sloppy sniper” class. Everyone talks about the exploits of Carlos Hathcock and others like him, but they are famous because they’re exceptional. Even in the military, the average shot is under 500 yards. In the police context, sniper shots rarely exceed 100. True partisan snipers rarely make very long shots either. The standard for the Guerilla Sniper class is to be able to make headshots at 200 and body shots out to 600. If you can go further, that’s better, of course, but this class is not about super-long range shooting or extreme accuracy. We want to get a hit somewhere on the guy, we don’t care which tear duct it goes through or whether or not you center-punched the third button on his shirt.

We went through a very thorough medical brief, appointing different students to various roles in the event of an accident. We also talked quite a bit about hydration. It was going to be a warm weekend and everyone has to stay hydrated. Finally, we went through the standard four rules of gun safety.

First topic was talking about sniper gear. Eric showed off a prototype of the TSD sniper bag. This was a pretty nice bag, with big pockets on either side to hold the rifle in place, rubberized material to keep it from sliding forward and back, and more rubber on the bottom to keep it from moving if you’re shooting off a car hood or other slick surface. Eric was really big on having some sort of bag, both to carry your gear and to shoot off of.

Next, he talked about gear to use to create sniper hides. In the wilderness this can include an entrenching tool, folding saw and a hatchet or tomahawk, pruning shears, and some sort of burlap or a sniper veil to obscure your outline, along with zip ties, duct tape or wire to attach camouflage. One thing I hadn’t thought about was what you’d need in an urban area: some sort of breaching kit to be able to enter a structure and make loopholes if necessary with things like pry bars, etc. One tool Eric really likes for both roles is a tomahawk. He discussed using it to lop off tree limbs, chop through interior walls, jam it into a tree to make a shooting rest, and, of course, as a fighting tool.

We talked a bit about shooting pads. Eric is really a fan of using a 3/4 length Thermarest air mattress with some grommets added to the corners. He’s really a fan of it’s multirole nature, as it can be used for sleeping, to make a litter to carry a wounded man, as an air splint, for floating people or gear across water, and as a shooting mat.

Next we talked optics (other than the one attached to your rifle). First up and most important in Eric’s estimation was a good pair of binoculars. He likes them somewhere in the 8 to 10 power range. His pair is actually a combination of binoculars and a laser rangefinder (one less piece of gear to carry). Binoculars are for scanning, locating targets, and general observation. They can cover more area than a spotting scope or rifle optic and are much less fatiguing to look through for long periods of time. He talked about techniques for scanning with binoculars, basically picking out an area that fits in the field of view, searching that by moving your eyeballs (not the binoculars) then moving on to the next field of view worth of area to scan. He also mentioned some techniques for stabilizing the binoculars by using your index and middle fingers to grasp your temples or the brim of your hat.

He really likes laser rangefinders to make range estimation problems easier. They take a lot of the guesswork out of long range shooting. In fact, he likes them enough that he thinks in a two man sniper team both members should have a rangefinder, in order to compare numbers and provide a backup.

Last in the optics department was a spotting scope. Eric regards this as secondary to the binoculars. They are for examining a target already located using the binoculars (or naked eye). In a two man team, he thinks one spotting scope is probably enough. For a variable he likes the 15-45 power models. Higher magnification (or even the high end of a 15-45) is often useless due to mirage. Another alternative is a fixed power scope of around 20x (like the one I brought). In addition to the standard tripod mount, he mentioned using a ruck to stabilize a pair of binoculars, much like you would a rifle.

We talked a bit about camouflage. Eric showed off part of his ghillie suit, but he also talked about areas where a ghillie suit, or even BDUs, would be inappropriate. For instance in urban sniping, a ghillie suit would attract attention. The best camouflage is to look like everybody else in the city. One interesting option Eric mentioned was using a camouflage bug suit (a jacket and pants made out of netting to keep out insects) as a way to quickly go from urban camo to rural camo, for a hide site in a park in the middle of a city, for instance. One other interesting tidbit he mentioned from the rural patrolling classes he mentioned was that black boot soles really stand out. You want boots with some color other than solid black.

Next up we talked about guns. The big choice here is obviously bolt versus semi-automatic. Semis are more versatile, and easier to press into the fighting rifle role if necessary. Bolt guns are generally more accurate, though semis are getting awfully good these days. However, you’re going to pay a lot more for equivalent accuracy in a semi-auto than in a bolt gun. If you’re operating in a two-man team, a good alternative is to have one bolt gun as the main long range rifle and a semi to provide security and additional firepower to engage multiple targets.

On the optics front, Eric’s rule of thumb is one power per hundred yards of intended shooting range. For semis, he likes 2-7x scopes, with 3-9x for bolt guns to take advantage of their better accuracy. Beyond power, the other big choice for a scope is the type of reticule. There are a lot of options from simple crosshairs to mil dot or ballistiplex reticules that help handle hold-overs and unders.

Eric went over the basics of ballistics, how the bullet starts out underneath the line of sight, climbs to intersect it, rises above it, then drops to intersect it again and falls below. We talked about different zeroing distances and their pros and cons. If your scope doesn’t have a built in ballistic drop compensator or a ballistiplex reticule, Eric’s a big advocate of zeroing the scope out further than 100 yards, allowing you to shoot further out without having to worry about hold-over. The gun he loaned Alex was zeroed at 250 yards. If you hold it dead on, it will shoot within four inches high or low out to 300 yards. This allows quick shots at torso sized targets. If you need a bit more accuracy, for a head shot for instance, you can look at the hold over/under chart (handily glued to the inside of the rear flip-up scope cover and hold over or under by a few inches.

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There are essentially three ways of dealing with bullet drop at longer ranges. One is Kentucky holdover (the vertical cousin to Kentucky windage), just holding above the target as necessary. If your scope has only a simple crosshair and no field adjustments, this is all you’ve got. If you have a BDC, target turrets, or some other means of adjusting the scope easily in the field you can adjust for distance, which requires more time but allows you to hold directly on the target rather than holding over or under. Finally, if you have a ballistiplex or mil-dot reticule, you can hold at the appropriate line or dot for the hold over. On some scopes you can do all three, and Eric is an advocate of being able to do all of them. Hold overs for quick shots, use the reticule if you have a bit more time, or if you’ve got time, adjust the scope for the shot.

The nearest set of target stands at Thunder Valley is 600 yards from the bench. That’s a bit far for our first shots, so we walked out to about the 575 yard line. Since it’s a bit of a hike back to the bench, we hoofed out everything we needed (see, this is why you need a ruck).

Eric went through the fundamentals of marksmanship with a scoped rifle (no need to teach sight alignment here). We talked about how to hold the rifle, pressing the trigger, breathing, etc. He also mentioned one element that I wasn’t aware of, which is that you don’t want any sort of shadow around the edges of the scope (caused by poor eye relief). You want to see a nice crisp view of the circle outline of the scope. If it’s fuzzy or shadowed (particularly if on just one side) the bullet may not go where the crosshairs appear to be. I spent some time fighting with this, particularly in some of the sitting and kneeling positions where my body was close to parallel to the rifle and the stock way back behind my neck.

He showed us prone, including unsupported, shooting off a ruck and shooting off a bipod. One element of this that was new to me is leaning forward into the bipod to help stabilize the rifle. He also showed SBU prone, rollover prone, and shooting with the stock on the ground and the forend held up by your fist.

After working the prone positions dry, Eric showed us sitting, both cross legged and open legs, as well as some odd adaptations like bringing one knee up and grabbing the rifle around it. One element I hadn’t previously appreciated is how changing which crossed leg was on top can adjust elevation. We worked these dry, including climbing up onto the target berm and using them to shoot up and downhill.

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Next up were kneeling and standing. We worked these positions dry, then we moved on to live fire. Our first live string was at 25 yards from the sitting position, to make sure everyone’s zero was reasonably good. Everybody brought a decently zeroed rifle, which is not always the case in these kinds of classes.

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We moved back to 50 and shot from sitting, kneeling, and standing. The area we were shooting from was unmowed grass up to about 2 feet tall, so prone was out of the question. Eric demonstrated using the sling as a shooting support (the hasty sling) and had us practice that as well.

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We moved back to 100, which took us partway up a hill. The slope of the hill made prone a possibility, though you had blood rushing to your head a bit when shooting. At this distance we dropped standing, shooting from sitting and kneeling and prone. Prone was much more accurate, of course. I learned that I need to work on my sitting and kneeling positions, as my wobble zones were pretty big.

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Back at 200, the hill started to flatten out a bit, making prone difficult to use. We shot sitting and kneeling, but at this distance I think we were approaching (or exceeding) the limits of these positions for most of the class. Alex and I tried shooting off the tripod we brought for the spotting scope with a sandbag balanced on top of it, but this was just way too unstable. The best shooting position from this range was actually to have your partner sit in front of you and use his shoulder as a rifle rest. This worked pretty well if you could get your breathing in sync.

From the same position we shot at a 12×12 inch steel plate 100 yards beyond the berm, for a total of 300 yards. This was partway up the next hill, so prone was usable. Most folks were able to ring the gong this way.

By this point, everyone’s ass was really dragging. It was hot and humid enough to really suck the life out of you. Even slamming down water and gatorade I probably wasn’t drinking as much as I should have.

With that we took the long hike back to the cars and called it a day. The entire class gathered for dinner at a restaurant next to the hotel. Alex and I made a Wal-Mart run afterwards. I’d been fighting some eye relief issues, especially in the sitting and kneeling positions, so I picked up a recoil pad to increase the length of pull a bit. While I was getting that, I saw they had a shooting stick. I’m a bit skeptical of a monopod as a support for the work we’re doing, but the rifle rest at the top was attached by a standard camera tripod connection, so we could remove it and attach it to the tripod, where it hopefully would be a whole lot more stable than the precariously balanced sandbag.

Saturday

We’d said that we’d try to start at seven, rather than nine this morning to help escape the heat of the day. It was more like eight by the time everyone was at the range and ready to go. In any case we needn’t have bothered as today was considerably cooler. It rained off and on, but frankly it was welcome compared to the heat of the day before. Most of us never even bothered to break out rain gear.
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We started off with a close quarters module. A sniper rifle isn’t the best weapon for shooting from 5 to 25 yards, but if it’s what’s in your hands when a threat appears, it will have to do. We began with some snap shooting. With a magnified optic (even on the lowest setting) at close range this consists of filling the optic with your target and pressing the trigger. We worked this at five, fifteen and twenty-five yards.

Next up was some point shooting. Eric explained the basics and we shot from underarm assault at 5, shooting while looking over the scope at 10 (or canting the rifle for folks with very high mounted optics). At 25 it was a bit far for point shooting, so Eric had us take some snap headshots.
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The last part of the CQB module was transitioning to pistol. If you’re using your sling as a shooting aid, it’s going to be too short to do the standard over the head transition that S.I. teaches, so we practiced slinging the rifle on the support side, muzzle down (African carry) and drawing the pistol. We worked this with dry rifles first, then practiced firing one round from the rifle and going to pistol. This could simulate running out of ammo for the semi-autos, but is probably the best course of action for a bolt gun.

Once the CQB stuff was finished, Eric gave a lecture on range estimation and wind. As he mentioned during the gear discussion yesterday, he really likes laser rangefinders and considers them a crucial piece of kit. However, if your laser goes tits up or you don’t have one, you can range in other ways. If you have a mildot scope, or simply know what angle different markings on your regular scope subtend, you can compare that to the size of known objects. If a particular piece of your scope covers three inches at 100 yards, and it covers half of something a foot across, that object is at around 200. Another method of finding ranges is to use a topographic map to locate yourself and the target. He passed around some examples of range data cards, which show different features and their ranges from a given shooting position.

Eric talked about different features that can make something appear closer or further than it really is. Many of them seem to boil down to the fact that people judge distances based not on how big something appears, but on how much visible terrain there is between you and it. If you cannot see all the terrain between you and an object (due to a hidden depression) the object appears closer. If you can see more terrain between you and an object than the pure horizontal distance, a large visible valley, for instance, objects appear further away. We had examples of both of these conditions visible from right where we were sitting.

Next up we talked about wind. Eric talked about different wind directions and how much they contribute the effect on the bullet in flight. He also went through some basic methods of estimating wind speed, based on what you can see moving or blowing. Another, more advanced method is to use the mirage visible through high magnification spotting scopes to read wind speed. This requires a lot of practice to do well, however. Finally, we ha a few examples of hand held wind sensors, but these will only measure the wind at your location. It may be different at various points in the bullet’s flight path.

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We spent most of the rest of the day shooting at steel targets at various ranges. There were 12×12 steel plates set up from 135 out to 1000. We paired up in teams and each team picked out a target to shoot at, trading around after everyone was done with a given range. Alex and I started with a 300 yard target. I got first round hits on it from rucksack prone, the bipod and unsupported prone. It took two shots to get on target from sitting, but this was substantially better than I was doing yesterday. Still need more practice though.

As teams traded off targets, we moved out to 400, 450, 500, and 600, working mostly from prone. I found hits out to 500 were fairly easy. The ballistiplex reticule in my rifle worked fine. It might not be exactly calibrated to the load I was shooting, but any differences were small enough that I was usually able to hit plates on the first shot. Alex’s rifle only had crosshairs, without any bullet drop markings or mildots. It was zeroed at 250, so he was able to hold right on the plate all the way out to 300. At 400 he had to start using Kentucky elevation, which was a bit more of a struggle. This was down in a valley and there was relatively little wind, so we never needed to do more than hold one side of the plate or the other at these ranges.

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At 600, it got substantially more challenging for me, since I had to hold the bottom mark on my ballistiplex above the target to hit it. This was compounded by the fact that I didn’t have a good drop table for the gun and the berm was wet enough that missed shots weren’t kicking up enough dirt to see on the spotter. Alex was calling my shots way over to the left, but I didn’t think there was that much wind and I really didn’t have any idea where I was hitting. Eric came over and spotted for me. He explained that what Alex had been calling was actually a vapor trail left by my bullets in flight. Atmospheric conditions were just right (very moist) that the turbulence of the bullet caused momentary condensation. Very cool, and once we understood what it was, we could use them to help spot. I was eventually able to ding the steel, as was Alex, but it was a struggle. He had to hold well over the top of the berm to get a hit at this range.

A few students got out beyond the 600 yard plate to 750, but out there the wind started picking up a lot more out that far (a flag at 1000 was standing almost straight out some of the time). Now, compared to the 1000 yard hits seen at the Kingman guerilla sniper classes this may seem like a poor performance, but you have to remember that these plates are only 12 by 12 inches. At the Kingman classes they’re shooting much larger steel, the size of an IDPA target, roughly 18 by 30 inches. Eric said that we could call any round that would have hit a man sized target at that range a hit, but all of us wanted to ring the steel. There’s just something about that boom . . . ding of a long range hit on steel. It’s almost like a drug: you want to do it again and again and do it at increasingly longer ranges.

At lunch, Eric talked about the odds of observing a standing man at different distances with the naked eye. According to a study by the Army during Project SALVO, the odds are 90% at 100 yards, but decline to just 30% at 200 yards, 15% at 300, 5% at 400, and drop to zero at 500%.

We went over some team shooting drills, with Eric calling out commands and everybody shooting in unison. Eight sniper rifles going off within a second is pretty impressive.

The commands are:
On Rifle
On Glass
On Target
On Trigger
Sending
One
Two
Bang!

Firing on bang, obviously.

We worked this in our two-man teams, with one shooter giving commands and both firing. Giving commands has a tendency to screw up your shooting. It messes with your breathing and you’re trying to concentrate on two things at once.

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We went back to shooting steel while Eric set up a drill off on the 100 yard range to the side (it’s really nice having two separate ranges to do this stuff on, allowing him to split individual teams off for exercises while the reset of us could keep shooting. The first such drill involved simultaneous precision shooting on a 1.5 inch dot at 100, 75, and 50 yards. This was a change of pace from the long distance stuff we’d been doing (Alex had to remember to hold under rather than over at this range). It also showed how you could practice some of these skills even if you didn’t have access to a one-mile or 1000 yard range.

For the next split off drill, Eric handed the team a piece of paper with pictures of the ten most wanted terrorists on it with two circled. He told us we had 90 seconds to get over to the other range and kill those two guys. You’ve got to grab your gear, get over there, ID the two guys and put rounds into them, preferably simultaneously.

While trying out an unconventional shooting precision (holding the sling mount in your fist and using that as a rest and putting the bottom of the butt into the dirt, I got a bit too close to the scope and it recoiled into my forehead. It was only a small cut, but as usual with head cuts I bled like a stuck pig for a bit.

I also played with my TSD Glcok with the RMR on it a bit. Dinging a target at 150 yards was fairly easy.

Later that afternoon Eric brought out his HS Precision Remmington 700 and tested how much his dope had shifted with the change in altitude from Montana to Ohio. Once he got it figured out, he had a round left and offered me the chance to shoot it. I held exactly where he told me to and dinged the 600 yard plate on the first shot. It’s definitely easier when you’re not holding over using Kentucky elevation.

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Alex put a few rounds through Eric’s rifle as well.

To finish out the day, we did a version of the Columbian Special Forces Drill. In this drill, you run towards the target, stopping at regular distance intervals to shoot. Usually, it’s done with AKs or ARs from 100 yards. We did it over 500 yards. None of the shots were that long (nothing over 200 yards), but had to fire between 100 yard dashes, which messes with your aim.

With that we wrapped up for the day. The owner of the range suggested a restaurant in town (The Forum) and it was a really good choice. Good food and fellowship were had by all.

Sunday

We rolled out early again for a 7:00 start time on Sunday. We started off with some more free shooting the various plates. I was able to bang plates at 300, 400, and 500 from prone with relative ease. This sort of thing gives me confidence in my ability to apply the skills we’ve been working on. One fellow in the class made a 700 yard cold bore first shot on a 12×12 inch steel. That is impressive.

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Our first break out drill was a variation on the face hunting drill from yesterday. This time, Eric had us shoot from under a table, simulating a cramped, improvised urban hide. Given my six foot five frame, this was a particular challenge. I shot with my rifle resting on my arm on top of the seat of a chair, sort of half sitting half lying. A totally improvised shooting position. Alex, who’s not quite as tall as I am was able to get a picture perfect seating position. To add a bit of stress, Eric was banging on top of the table, simulating a train going by. Like yesterday, we synchronized our shots, firing at the same time.

While the other teams shot the drill, we went back to shooting steel. On Saturday I’d found that the ballistiplex reticule works real well out to 500, which is the longest range marked on the scope. I had some real trouble at 600 using holdover. Last night I looked up some numbers on the Burris website and used a ballistics calculator and if I had my numbers right, turning the magnification from 9x down to 6x would increase the drop of the 500 yard mark on the scope to right about the drop for my cartridge at 600 yards. Now I wanted to see if I’d gotten the math right. I was able to get the first shot within minute of man and ding the plate with the second. This gave me confidence that I could use this rifle to meet the Guerilla Sniper standard of 200 yard headshots and 600 yard body shots.

After I was done doing some shooting, I went to deploy my bipod to ground my rifle and found that one of the springs had come off the bipod leg. Closer examination revealed that the spring had come loose because a nut holding the leg screw on had backed out, allowing the leg to come loose. I hadn’t actually been shooting from the bipod very much, just using it to hold up my rifle when it was grounded, so I pulled the bipod off and went on without it. I didn’t have much hope of finding it out in the field, but Alex located it on my shooting mat (yet another use for a mat, catching bits of your gear when it breaks). I got it threaded back on and think the bipod will probably be repairable.

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Our next team drill had us shooting from behind a woodpile, and some piled up roof trusses, simulating a construction site or farmyard. This time, rather than simultaneous shots on two different targets we had to make simultaneous shots on one guy. Assigning two snipers to the target increases the odds of a hit.

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By this point we were doing pretty good shooting 100 yard headshots on static paper targets. In the real world however, people tend to move around, especially the head. Eric talked a bit about ways to practice shooting moving targets. A simple method is to tape some balloons out there that can blow around a bit, or to hang a gallon jug with just a little bit of water in it and let it swing. If you want to get more complex, you can attach a target to a fiberglass pole atop an RC Car, or rig up a clothesline with the rope running from the pulley up range to a buddy.

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Next up Eric brought out a truck windshield so we could test shooting through glass. We fired a variety of different .308 rounds through it, along with 6.5 Grendel, .22-250, .220 Swift, and 7.62×39. All of the rifle rounds busted through the glass, of course. The all produced a substantial amount of spalling. Auto windshields are made up of two layers of glass with a plastic laminate in between. When you shoot them, particularly with high velocity rifle rounds, the second layer of glass shatters in a 1.5-2 inch ring around the bullet hole and sends fragments and glass dust into the target. Some targets looked like they’d taken a load of birdshot to the face. Even if your round misses the target, the spalling may screw them up pretty bad. All of the rounds were deflected at least a little bit, but the direction might not be what you expect. When a round hits an angled piece of laminated glass like an auto windshield, it will be deflected down (when you are shooting into the car). The round bites into the glass and gets pushed downward. The .220 Swift round (at around 4000 feet per second) actually broke up going through the glass shedding jacket through one hole and lead hole through the other.

Although this was a sniper class, since we had the windshield out there we also shot some pistol rounds through it. First up was frangible .357 SIG, which basically vaporized on the glass. 9mm ball saw some major deflection (about five inches). The carry ammo did better, with Alex’s Winchester Ranger showing little deflection and my DPX almost none.

The context of some of these more urban focused drills led to some discussion of the book Fry the Brain by John West. I had brought a copy to read on the drive up, so I brought it out and passed it around, along with copies of Guerilla Sniper and Guerilla Sniper 2. Eric mentioned that if he could make those required reading before anyone took this class, his lectures could be a lot shorter.

The wind was blowing a bit more at this point and Alex asked about what it was doing at the moment. Since there was more wind than yesterday when we had the wind lecture, Eric was able to talk about it a bit more with some actual examples of trees blowing around, etc.

We also talked a bit about internal ballistics and how free float or button floating barrels affects accuracy. When fired the barrel vibrates like a tuning fork. You want the barrel to vibrate the same way every time, so you get consistency. This vibration can change if your barrel isn’t free floated and you are putting pressure on the fore end, or as the barrel heats up.

Eric gave an excellent lecture on camouflage. He went through the “S”s that you want to minimize to avoid detection:

Shape
Shadow
Shine
Silhouette
Spacing
Scent
Speed
Sound
Spoor

Shape is anything that is distinctive or not seen in nature. Rifles and the circular lenses of optics are very distinctive and unnatural. The human head and shoulders is instantly recognizable by another human being. You can hide these shapes by breaking up the outline, either through the object’s color (camouflage patterns) or by physically altering the outlines with things like ghillie suits, sniper veils, attaching burlap to your rifle, or adding some local vegetation.

Shadows can give you away even when you are completely out of sight. Be aware of not just whether you are visible, but whether your shadow can be seen. Use shadows cast by other objects (trees or buildings, for example) to hide in.

Shiny objects are highly visible and rather rare in nature. We can try to avoid anything shiny by taking off your watch then stalking, but as long as we’re dependent on optics we can’t avoid them completely. A killflash filter or a long sunshade can minimize visible reflection on optics. Sunglasses are another source of shine. You can do without them and rely on the brim of a cap to shade your eyes, but I’ll admit that doesn’t seem very appealing to me after a discussion on eye protection during the glass shooting exercise earlier. Another option is sunglasses with a camo pattern printed on them.

Object that are silhouetted against the sky or a light background stand out far more than the same object against a neutral background. Avoid ridge lines and be aware of places when the sky might be behind you.

Almost nothing in nature is regularly spaced. Humans, on the other hand, have a natural instinct for order. Regularly spaced objects are easy to recognize and we end up spacing things evenly even when we don’t consciously attempt to (a line of men walking in a file, for instance). Avoid regularly spaced items on your gear and when working in a team don’t space yourselves evenly.

Scent is often overlooked, both as a detection tool and in being detected. Eric is a bow hunter so this is something he’s very well versed in. One pitfall of a lot of students in this class, or the rural patrolling class he teaches is bringing a freshly painted rifle that still smells strongly. You can also give yourself away through scented soap or deodorant, strong scents like gasoline, or even eating distinctly scented food. On the other hand, you can use strong smelling locations to mask your own scent. If your hide is next to a feedlot, no one is going to smell you.

Nothing draws the human eye faster than rapid movement. We had actually seen a demonstration of this on Friday when a deer moved across the range. When it was still, it was almost invisible (despite not being colored particularly similar to the green background). When it bounded, however, it instantly drew the eye. The same thing applies to humans. As Eric put it, don’t be in a hurry to get shot. Move slowly, not just your body, but also your head and hands. Eric mentioned seeing guys in the patrolling classes with everything covered in camo except their face and hands. What was moving the most? Their face and hands.

Noise can be a dead giveaway. As if to highlight this, during our discussion of sound one of the student’s cellphones went off. Leave your phone off, leave the change at home, and tape down everything that jingles, rattles or squeaks. Eric also showed us some methods for moving quietly. I knew about rolling your feet from heel to toe to walk quietly on hard surfaces, but he showed us a new one for walking on things like gravel called pancake steps. Hold your foot level and lower it gently so that it all touches at once. This will keep the pieces of gravel from grinding against each other.

Last up was spoor. This can be literal spoor, as with animal droppings, or prints but it can also apply to any other trace you leave behind, like dropped gear or empty casings.

Eric talked a bit about applying face paint. While we didn’t do any practical work with it in this class, he said that you want to color depressions, like your eye sockets, a light color and paint protrusions, like the nose a darker color.

Next, Eric demonstrated how to apply some vertical displacement to your movement when stalking. The easiest, but most visible way to move is to simply stand and walk. You can lower your height a bit by bending over. This can be almost as quick as walking, but it can be very fatiguing. You can lower your profile further still by crouching down into kind of a duck walk. To get lower than this, you’re going to have to go down on your knees, which is going to cut down on your speed by quite a bit. Next is getting down on hands and knees, followed by knees and elbows, forearms and thighs, and the sniper crawl, where you lay face down and propel yourself with just your toes and fingers. This only allows you to inch along, but it lowers your profile as much as it can be lowered. He gave us a chance to practice these various movement methods on the range.

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Our next assignment was to get into a hide position somewhere on the hillside below the firing line. Some of the folks were able to get very well hidden, but Alex and I weren’t really able to find a very thick bit of cover. It might have worked if Alex and been able to get down prone, but that would have meant occupying an ant pile. I made use of a sniper veil (camo netting) to break up my outline and cover up my bare, uncamouflaged arms. Eric said it did a pretty good job of hiding me and it was definitely a lot cooler than putting on my BDU shirt would have been. Eric observed our positions by sneaking downrange wearing his ghillie suit. This was in interesting application of some of the “S”s listed above. When he was still, with his silhouette broken up by the suit, he looked like a bush. As soon as he moved, he was immediately visible. When he broke out the binoculars to observe our positions, those two shiny circles stood out a huge amount. We finished up the exercise by having each team take coordinated shots from their hides.

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We took a bit of a break as Tom, the owner of Thunder Valley Precision, brought out some of his rifles and suppressors for us to take a look at. He both sells other manufacturer’s suppressors and makes his own (mostly for rifles, I believe). He brought out a Glock 17L with a titanium suppressor. Between the extended slide and the can it was quite long, but the can was so light it didn’t impede shooting at all. With subsonic ammo it was exceedingly quiet. He also had a .22 can that he fired from a rifle and a Ruger .22 pistol. The real fun was with the rifle suppressors. There was one in .260 Ackely Improved, which sounded like a door slamming. The other big suppressed rifle was in .300 Hulk. This is Tom’s own custom cartridge that he used to set a 1000 yard record. It launches a .30 caliber round out to distances of over a mile. He fired it all the way out to a mile, and several students who took up his offer of a chance to shoot it were easily able to ding the 600 yard steel. Next time anyone tells you that a suppressor will make your sniper rifle inaccurate, call their ignorant B.S.

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After having fun with suppressors, we began our stalking exercise. The route Eric had us travel involved all of the different heights and movement methods that he’d talked about earlier, including a sniper craw across the road. I found that some of these low crawling movements can be very fatiguing, especially when you’re pushing through heavy grass. Your gear catches on everything, hanging up your rifle, popping scope covers open, and tugging on you. I lost one of the adjustment knobs for my Peltor electronic ear protection sometime during the crawl. Moving like this through the thick grass also leaves a heck of a trail. About two feet wide of crushed grass after two shooters move through it. As I realized later, belly crawling is also a really good ab workout (man I was sore!)

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Once we reached the top of the hill, he took one team at a time over to a pre-made sniper hide that’s part of the facility and asked us to estimate the range to two different targets. We eyeballed it and I did some work using dimensions of different lines on my reticule. Despite this our guess was off by about 100 yards. We finished this off with simultaneous shots on the two targets.

Our last exercise was shooting from a vehicle hide. We’d pull a vehicle up to the firing line with one driver and one shooter, and let loose a round at a target 100 yards away, then immediately roll out of there. The best one was probably John McCreery and his teammate shooting out of the trunk of a Chevy Monte Carlo. The pulled up, popped the trunk open a little bit, took the shot, then drove right off. Alex and I were probably too tall to shoot from my trunk, so Alex and I shot from the rear passenger seat of my car, firing from the left shoulder, resting the gun on the front seat and firing out at a slight angle through the passenger side window. I shot first (since it was my car we were putting at risk of a bullet hole). Then we switched and I drove while Alex shot. The concussion of a .30-06 going off in the car, even with the passenger side window open, was like getting slapped in the face. I have to say that shooting from the vehicle hides was awesome, one of the highlights of the class.

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This was our last exercise, but we had a chance to shoot around a bit more. Alex was doing some shooting and had trouble opening up the bolt after a shot. When he got the case out, we found that he’d shot one of my .308 rounds through his .30-06. The case was now fire-formed to be almost straight walled, but the bullet had left the barrel. The next round of .30-06 that he fired hit in almost the same spot, so the .308 was pretty accurate (at 200 yards, at least).

Conclusions

This was a phenomenal class. This is my 21st S.I. class and it was truly one of the best experiences I’ve had (and I’ve had some great ones). Eric is an excellent instructor and the facility was just top notch for what we were doing. If you get a chance to take a Guerilla Sniper class, particularly at Thunder Valley Precision in Kimbolton, OH, by all means take it!

Coming into the class with relatively little experience, as I did in this case, I learned a tremendous amount. Often with pistol or tactical rifle classes these days, much of what is covered in a given class is stuff I already know; I’m just looking to have a fun time, fine tune my skills, and pick up some tidbits (particularly on the instructional side). For this class, almost everything was new. I’m sure that if I go practice this stuff regularly for a year and took the exact same class again I would learn a tremendous amount just because my skill level would have risen enough to pick up all sorts of new stuff.

As Alex found using Eric’s old deer rifle, you don’t need a $1500 rifle and $2500 worth of glass to take this class. For what we’re trying to teach (headshots at 200 yards, bodies at 600) almost any rifle will do if you will do. If you won’t do, all the rifle in the world won’t help. As Alex said afterwards, if you can’t read the wind or estimate range, your sub-MOA rifle just allows you to miss more accurately.

After taking this class I feel confident enough in my skill and with my rifle, that I can hit anything I am at out to 600 yards IF the wind isn’t bad and I have a supported position. Reading the wind is something that requires a lot of experience going out and shooting in different wind conditions, not something that can be developed over a three day weekend.

Shooting from supported prone, particularly off a pack, is just stupidly easy. You can take the shooter’s unsteady muscles almost completely out of the equation. However, as we found out on the first day, in the field, prone is often completely useless. You need to be able to shoot from higher positions. I need to put in a lot more time practicing the sitting and kneeling positions (I sense a lot of dry practice in my future).

The other thing I’ll be pursing is methods for steadying the rifle in higher positions. Shootings sticks, tripods with cradles, using your partner or his rifle for stability, or shooting with the ruck on a chair, car, or somewhere else up off the ground. You also need to be able to shoot from improvised positions. There was no way for me to get into a conventional shooting position under that table, or in my car, but by adapting to the situation I was able to make the shots. You can’t practice for every possible position, but you can work firing from both shoulders, and practice figuring out how to meet many different challenges. The bench rest guys my look at you funny at the range, but your practical rifle skills are far beyond what they’re doing.

I was very pleased with how my rifle shot. The gun liked the Prvi ammo and was consistent even during strings involving many successive shots. Even with the improvements in my skills over the course of the class it’s clearly more accurate than I am. It’s also far more accurate than is necessary to meet the 200 yard headshot, 600 yard body shot standard of the class. However, it’s also accurate enough that I know when the bullet doesn’t hit the target, it was either my shooting or my judgement of the wind. I can eliminate the rifle as a factor.

Within its envelope, the Burris 3-9 with the Ballistiplex worked very well for me. All I have to do is call the range and put the appropriate hash mark on the target. Everything else is just a study hold and good trigger press. Beyond 500 yards, however, things got much more difficult. With no markings for holdover, it was hard to find the correct elevation. I was able to figure out the right math to shoot reliably at 600 by reducing the zoom, which meets the GS standard. Because I’m loosing magnification to get more drop, there’s a point of diminishing returns here. I feel like the rifle (and the shooter, at least from a good supported position) could have gone out further with a different optic. So, I’m considering eventually replacing it with something with a mildot reticule and field adjustable turrets with nice, repeatable adjustments. The current scope will do the job, but something like the optic Eric has on his rifle might allow me to take it out even further, and give me a chance to master the mildot system and making scope adjustments.

The support gear I brought worked fairly well. The pack, forestock saddle rest and rear bag are a great system; when I could use them all I could be very confident in my accuracy. The shooting mat was a great addition. The TAB gear mat was small enough I could roll it up and put it in my pack, so I could take it out in the field, which wasn’t true of the mats most people brought. I wasn’t fighting the Arizona lawn, like the folks out in the Kingman class were, but it was useful on the wet grass and the rough hillside where we set up our hide. The sniper veil was also enormously useful in the hide. For a piece of kit I picked up for less than $15 on Amazon it was extremely cost-effective. I’m probably going to pick up another one or two of them (perhaps in different patterns for other environments).

While the kit I brought worked fairly well, I’ve discovered there’s a bunch more stuff that would be very useful. I’ve got two pages in the little notebook I use to take notes in class titled “Eric is Costing Me Money” filled with stuff I want to get. Some are inexpensive additions like camo duct tape (to cover up shiny bits of gear) and some earth toned socks (so my white ones don’t show when my pants leg rides up). Others are expensive and will probably have to wait for a while, like a laser rangefinder. Lots of the other stuff on the list is either related to camouflage, like a killflash or a camo hat, or to tools for building hides, like a tomahawk and entrenching tool.

One small change of opinion this class has led me to is the Camelback water bladder. For a long time I’ve resisted and relied on water bottles and canteens for hydration, but the virtues of the Camelback in allowing you to subtly hydrate when you’re stalking or in a hide are just too great to ignore. A couple of bladders and a carrier are definitely on the list.

Another thing on the list is a new bipod. The cheap Harris knockoff that came with the rifle is probably repairable, but I’d like something better. I really like the versapod bipod that Eric had on his rifle. It seems like a quality piece of kit and its ability to easily attach and detach fits the way we use our rifles much better.

While I talked a little about it already, one subject that deserves some discussion is how this class differed from the GS class as taught in Kingman. I should preface this by saying that I haven’t been to the Kingman class so most of this is based on conversations with Eric (who has helped Gabe teach this stuff in Kingman several times). The Kingman range is much flatter and more featureless. Since it doesn’t have all the fixed steel gongs at various ranges, Gabe sets up all his targets at one range and everyone shoots at the same range and moves back together. As mentioned, the targets are bigger, IDPA size rather than 12″x12″. It lacks the side range for team exercises while the rest of the class keeps shooting (something Eric was able to take advantage of since there were three other S.I. instructors in the class to keep an eye on the line while he ran the side range.

The biggest difference may be the possibilities for stalking exercises. As mentioned, the Kingman range is pretty flat, and your choices for vegetation levels are basically crouched over in the brush, or down crawling in the cleared areas. The terrain here is much more varied with many different types of vegetation. We only took advantage of a small portion of it for our stalking exercises in this class. You could do a lot more with that aspect if you wanted to. The venue and what you can do here are different enough that I think a veteran of the Kingman class could probably come to a GS class out here and learn quite a bit.

This range gave the one in Kingman a run for its money in terms of heat. The absolute temperature may not have been as high, but the humidity made up for it. Particularly on Friday, it was just brutal. When you’re happy getting doused with rain every half hour because it keeps the temperature down, that’s hot. I would hope that the next class held in Kimbolton be in, say April or October, rather than July.

Another feature of this range that the Kingman one probably doesn’t have is ticks. I had to pry one of the little buggers out of me, and discovered two more on my clothing before they latched on. Eric, however, seems to attract them in far greater numbers. He found a dozen on his clothes just when he was getting ready to leave on Sunday. Eric is a real tick magnet.

If I could leave you with one message, it would be that you don’t have to wait until you have a bunch of gear to take this class. I almost did and I would have missed out on a great experience. You don’t need to bring a high dollar rifle. An average deer gun or a Wal-Mart special .308 will do just fine. You don’t need a Nightforce scope either (though it will probably do you more good than the high end rifle). I did fine out to 600 with a Burris scope that’s available for as low as $150. While I’ve talked a lot about useful support gear, you don’t really need much. Grab a backpack or bookbag, stuff it with something (I used a pillow and some towels before I had enough gear to fill a ruck). Throw in some decent ammo (Prvi works great) and the usual eye and ear protection and you’re ready to take this class.

Before I end this I should make mention of my fellow students. There ware a variety of skill levels, from those with little precision shooting experience (like me) to folks with quite a bit of hunting and long range shooting experience under their belts. Everyone brought a good attitude and a zeroed rifle. They were truly a pleasure to train with. In particular I need to thank Alex Nieuwland, who served as my teammate for the class. He was a great spotter and fine shooting partner.

Gs4

Thunder Valley Precision is a phenomenal venue for this sort of class. Tom’s a nice guy (anyone who lets me shoot a suppressed weapon is a pretty good guy in my book) and the facility itself is just phenomenal. I look forward to seeing S.I. doing great things here in the future.

The Guerilla Sniper curriculum is really well done. I have to commend Gabe for how he set this up. It’s a class focused on the shooter, rather than expensive gear. It emphasizes engagement ranges and accuracy standards that reflect the real world, rather than the exceptional Hathcockian shots. The material is laid out in a clear, logical fashion and takes relative novices like myself quickly to a very high skill level.

Eric was really a great instructor for this class. He clearly has an enormous amount of experience and ability when it comes to long range shooting and hunting (both animals and men). He’s an excellent teacher as well, and was able to provide a huge amount of information about what we were studying. I get the feeling that in three days we only tapped a small fraction of what he has available to teach on the subject. I would highly recommend him as an instructor.

In case anyone is still in doubt at this point, let me say I really enjoyed this class!

Images courtesy of Eric Pfleger and Alex Nieuwland.

AR15/M4 Rifle Gunfighting

September 9, 2011

I just got back from the AR15/M4 Rifle Gunfighting class Randy Harris taught this weekend. This will be is a bit different from my usual after action reviews. I was not actually a student in this class. Instead, Randy was nice enough to let me sit in as an ‘Assistant Instructor’, which essentially meant that I watched Randy teach the class, helped run the firing line, demoed stuff, and offered the occasional comment from the peanut gallery.

Why spend a weekend over in Chattanooga doing this? Well, back in February I taught a Fighting Rifle Skills class and one of the students brought an AR. I’m mainly an AK guy, but I’d prepared for this eventuality: I watched the AR-15 Rifle Gunfighting DVD, read up on SI doctrine for running the AR, etc. I think I did a pretty good job telling the student how to run his rifle, but I could have done better, particularly when it came to demonstrating some of the AR specific manipulations. The best way I can describe it is that I knew this stuff in my head, but not in my hands.

The first step in improving my ability to do this was to get myself an AR, so I could get some hands on experience. I got the gun put together about a month ago, did dry work with it, and shot it for about half the exercises in Roger Phillips’ Long Gun Point Shooting Progressions class last weekend.

This hands on experience has certainly helped (and I’ll continue to get more of it as time goes on). As I was putting the finishing touches on my new rifle, I noticed Randy’s class on the SI schedule. He knows a lot more about the AR than I do (he bought an M16 before he bought his first car), and I figured seeing how he taught students to use it would be quite helpful.

I brought my new AR, a BCM upper with a lightweight barrel and midlength gas system on a Palmetto State Armory lower with a Sully stock. It’s got Magpul handguards, a Daniel Defense fixed rear sight, and an EOTech on a LaRue mount. The latest additions have been a flashlight mount for a Surefire G2 on the front sight post and a set of nice Suarez International logo decals. I am really happy with how this gun turned out. I’m still and AK guy, but this rifle is tempting. The gun was fed with PMAGs. I brought my Sneakybag, but ended up just using one of Dale Fricke’s kydex mag carriers and a belt mounted dump pouch (either EMDOM or Maxpedition Rolly Polly).

On the pistol end of things, I brought my Glock 17 with a new RMR on it. This is actually the first time I’ve used the RMRed pistol as a carry gun. It rides (very nicely, I might add) in a Dale Fricke Seraphim holster.

This was a fairly big class. There were twelve students, all told. They all brought ARs. One was in 7.62x39mm, but all the others were in 5.56mm. The majority was using iron sights, but there was a strong minority of red dots (Aimpoint and EOTech) and one magnified optic. Some rifles started out with a lot of stuff bolted to them. One began the first day with a flashlight, green laser, bipod, and a vertical fore grip (after the first round of dry drills, these accessories started disappearing).

There was quite a bit of variety in support gear. We had sneakybags, chest rigs, tactical vests, a plate carrier (sans plates), belt rigs, and one student who just fed his AR out of the pockets of his jeans.

Glock was the most common pistol, with a smattering of XDs and 1911s. Most folks ran with a pistol on the belt, but there were a few with thigh holsters. Several people had some rather unusual pistol carry methods, including a cross draw holster on a vest, and two who carried their pistols inside their shoulder bags.

Saturday

The class started off with the usual safety briefing. Randy explained the four rules and how we would run the range. He went over the medical plan and what to do in the event someone got shot.

With that out of the way, we began with a lecture on the history of the AR platform. This sort of thing could be a little boring, but Randy was able to provide lots of visual (and tactile) aids from his extensive AR collection. There were also a couple of students with some old school rifles that helped illustrate the early years of AR design. One had a three prong flash hider (pre-birdcage) and both lacked the forward assist and had slab sided magwell (without any ridge around the mag release button). From this starting point he used his extensive knowledge of the AR’s history and various examples to take us through the development of the gun to the modern day.

The AR does have something of a mixed reputation, and we talked about some of these alleged issues. During recent conflicts, the AR has acquired a reputation for poor terminal performance. Randy pointed out that the two primary culprits in this: the adoption of the 62 grain green tip round and the widespread issue of shorter barreled guns took place during a time period (the ’80s and ’90s) where we weren’t shooting a lot of people. As citizens we can choose more effective ammo, we are generally forced to use somewhat longer barrels, and we don’t tend to be taking real long shots.

The other issue ARs often get knocked on is reliability. A lot of this is operator induced, usually either insufficient (or no) lubrication. An AR will not run bone dry, and it needs to be cleaned occasionally. On a well lubed and reasonably clean rifle, the usual mechanical culprits are a bad extractor spring or bad magazines. The extractor issue can be mitigated with newer, more powerful extractor spring with a D-ring around it. With mags, you can either buy newer mags, or replace the followers on old mags with newer, better ones. Randy demonstrated this by replacing a black follower in an old mag with the anti-tilt green one during the lecture. The other thing you can do with mags is to identify and get rid of your bad magazines. If you keep your gun well lubed and relatively clean, have a good extractor setup and good mags, it will run much more reliably than many people will believe.

We talked about the AR’s different controls: the sights, trigger, safety, mag release, charging handle, and bolt release (we pretty much ignored the forward assist). Some of these are pretty self-explanatory (sights, trigger) but others require some education. One of the things that makes running an AR different is that there are two different controls for manipulating the bolt: the charging handle and the bolt release. On an AK (or most other military rifles for that matter) you do all the bolt manipulation using the charging handle. On the AR, you need to know when to use the charging handle and when to use the bolt release. Basically the charging handle is for loading and malfunction clearance, while the bolt release is for reloads. Using the charging handle for everything is slower, less reliable, and risks damage to a somewhat fragile part.

The other point about the ARs controls is that they aren’t ambidextrous (at least not in the stock configuration). SI places great stock in being able to run the rifle on either side, so you need to be able to operate all of these with either hand. Right handed, the mag release is run with your index finger. With the rifle on the left side, you use your thumb of your right hand as you grab the mag out of the rifle. On the right side, the left thumb hits the bolt release. On the left, if your fingers are long enough you can hit the bolt release paddle with your index finger. If they’re shorter, you can ‘choke the chicken’ and reach around the front of the magwell and slap the bolt release with your fingers. Right handed, you can operate the charging handle by hooking it with your left index finger. On the left side, you can reach under and hook it with your right thumb. In either case, just hooking the left side of the charging handle (where the latch is) is faster than taking the stock off your shoulder and grabbing both sides of the t-handle.

Randy had the students empty their rifles and divest themselves of any loaded magazines. Thus denuded of any live ammunition, we started with some dry practice. First up was simply mounting the rifle to the shoulder with the sights in line with your eye and pressing the trigger to the rear. We moved on to the reload, and had the students change empty magazines in their rifles. Then, in their first taste of SI doctrine, Randy had the students switch to their support side and do the reload with the gun on that hand. It was immediately obvious that many people’s support gear was not really set up for support side reloads. Many also had difficulty with a lack of a good place to put ‘expended’ magazines in either the primary or support sides. SI is not a fan of dropping expended mags as a default.

Moving on to some position work, Randy had me demonstrate kneeling and prone, and had the host of this class, who has taken lots of Randy’s rifle classes, show SBU, urban, and modified (Spetsnaz) prone. Then Randy had the students practice tracking him while prone and seeing how they had to shift positions to address potential threats in different directions.

Randy continued the dry work by doing mag changes on the move. Everyone lined up abreast and moved down the road, doing three mag changes. They did this at a walk a few times, then stepped it up to a jog. The first few times there were a lot of dropped mags, but these diminished as students got more experience. Then, of course, we switched shoulders and did the same from the support side.

Next up was the slalom drill. The students lined up about three yards apart, and one at a time they slalomed down the line, treating each student as either a right or left handed corner, switching shoulders each time.

While this dry work was just the first part of the first day, it really encapsulated the SI philosophy: everything we do we want to be able to do ambidextrously and on the move.

After lunch, we moved out to the range and worked on zeroing everyone’s rifles. We shot prone from 50 yards. Most folks were either right on or pretty close, but there were some exceptions. One student had a brand new EOTech that he’d never sighted in, and it was shooting way low. We had to dial it up around 65 clicks to get it on target. Another students iron sights were so far off he was off the paper entirely. Randy took his rifle while I ran the line and spotted and we got it dialed in after some major adjustments. While he was doing this, he doubled a couple of times. He eventually concluded that if you didn’t fly your finger off the trigger with each shot and instead tried to properly reset it, the rifle would double more often than not.

Once all the rifles were pretty well zeroed, we moved on to some snap shooting. Shoulder the rifle, make any small sight adjustments you need to get the sights lined up and on target, and press the trigger. The better your mount is, the fewer adjustments you need and the quicker you can press the shot, so a solid mount is an important skill. At reasonable ranges with the right skills, you can press the trigger as soon as the rifle hits the shoulder. After doing this from low ready, Randy had me demonstrate the SI ready positions (contact ready, close contact ready, Sul, patrol ready, port arms, and high noon ready) then proceeded to practice mounting the gun and making snap shots from all of them.

Next up Randy introduced the “caveman EOTech”. This is a method of point shooting the rifle, similar to the metal on meat method for pistols. You basically look over the rear sight, put the front sight tower of the rifle on the target, and press the trigger. If the target appears larger than the sight tower, you’re probably going to hit. For the portion of the class with optics, we talked about looking over the optic and using the top of the sight housing for your caveman EOTech. We did a fair bit of shooting like this to get people used to the concept.

Randy also talked about mechanical sight offset. The AR’s sights are 2.5 inches above the bore, so at close range the bullet will hit low. If you’re trying to shoot a guy in the chest, it’s not really an issue. If you’re trying to shoot him in the eye, and your daughter’s head is right under that eye, you need to take this into consideration. Randy had the students shoot at a small dot on the target’s head and see how low their bullets hit, then had them compensate for this and try to put the rounds right through the dot. There are two methods. One is simply to aim about two inches high. The other is to get an alternate sight picture with your irons, with the front post up above the rear aperture. With a little practice, everyone was able to get very precise hits on the dot.

Continuing our emphasis on ambidextrous shooting, we did some more shoulder transfer drills, this time shooting it live. Fire two shots from the strong side, do a partial transfer (move the butt of the rifle to the other shoulder but keep the primary hand on the firing grip and the support hand on the magwell) and fire two shots, switch the hands and fire two shots, do a partial transfer back to the primary shoulder and fire two shots, then switch the hands and fire two more.

Our last major drill of the day was to practice against multiple adversaries. We split the class in two and I ran one line while Randy ran the other. Each line had three targets and one student at a time would engage them. We started with firing at each target three times each, then switched to shooting them once each, then twice each. This got students used to transitioning from target to target and taught them that shooting them once each is going to be faster than hosing each target down with a burst.

To wrap things up, Randy talked about malfunctions. Because of its design, the AR is subject to some rather . . . interesting . . . malfunctions. Cartridges or empty cases can end up in odd places (like between the bolt and the charging handle) where they are rather hard to get out. Given the variety of problems that can crop up, many people like to do diagnostic malfunction clearance: figure out what’s wrong and perform some remedial action specifically designed to remedy that problem. We’re not really a fan of that at SI, regardless of the platform. It’s quicker and easier to deep the diagnosis to a minimum and apply a general solution that will fix a broad range of problems. We can’t quite get to completely non-diagnostic malfunction clearance the way we do on an AK (if it stops working, reload it). However, we can keep diagnosis to a minimum. We divide malfunctions, and our actions to clear them into two categories: dead trigger and mush trigger. The dead trigger goes click, and you get nothing. The mush trigger doesn’t even go click. The difference between the two is if the gun goes click (the hammer falling) you know that must be in battery. If the hammer won’t even fall, the bolt is probably not all the way forward.

If you get a click, it means that you either have a dud round, or there’s nothing in the chamber. The most common reason there’s nothing in the chamber is a failure to seat the mag completely. If the magazine is not all the way in the magwell, the bolt won’t be able to strip the top round and drive it into the chamber. To fix either of these problems, we do the same as we do on a pistol: tap the bottom of the magazine and cycle the action. This insures the magazine is seated, gets a dud round in the chamber out (if there is one) and chambers a new round. Gun should be ready to go.

If you don’t get a click and the trigger is just mushy, it means you have a failure to extract (the previous round is still in the chamber and the rifle is trying to drive another round in behind it), a failure to eject (commonly referred to as a stovepipe), a true double feed (two rounds trying to get in the chamber at the same time) or one of the AR’s more complex malfunctions (most of which can be described as rounds somewhere in the mechanism where they shouldn’t be). For all of these problems, step one is to get the mag out of the magwell. Depending on how stuck it is, you may be able to just rip it out, or you may have to lock the bolt back first to relive some pressure. Once the mag is out, the rounds causing the problem may fall out on their own, or you may have to coax them out by cycling the bolt or by hand. Once the gun is completely empty, insert a new magazine and cycle the bolt. If this is one of the more complex malfunctions, you may have to do some diagnosis at this point (and perhaps use your multitool to help get cases or cartridges out).

Randy had demonstrated one other malfunction clearance technique earlier in the day (when we had an actual need for it). During the procedures above, you may run into a situation where a shell is stuck in the chamber so tight you can’t even move the charging handle. This can often be solved by ‘mortaring’ the gun, though sometimes it will require a range rod to clear. If you have a collapsible stock, collapse it (otherwise you may break the pin that holds it in position). Then, while pulling the charging handle to the rear, drive the gun butt first into the ground (angled downrange, please). The sudden stop when it hits the ground should allow the inertia of the bolt to yank the stuck case out of the chamber and clear the malfunction. If it doesn’t, you may need to bang it out with a range rod.

As it was getting a bit late, we held off on practical application of these procedures until tomorrow. Randy, several students, and I adjourned to a steakhouse for dinner and some excellent fellowship before turning in for the evening.

Sunday

We started out the day with a review of the material we covered yesterday, which evolved into a discussion of the context for civilian use of the AR. Unlike a pistol, we’re probably not going to carry a rifle on our person all the time. A rifle lives in the closet or the trunk until a situation where you need it. Those situations are probably limited to home defense and SHTF scenarios. While Katrina is the default example for a SHTF situation these days, the tornados that hit the area where we were training about a month prior (much damage was visible on our drive to the range each day) provided a more immediate real world example. In these sorts of situations you might be glad to have something with a bit more reach than a pistol. Randy had a personal example of this. After the tornadoes, he some trouble getting home from work that day because the police closed off the road due to downed limbs and powerlines ahead. He was on the verge of walking the last half-mile into his subdivision when they opened up the roadblock. Now, he wouldn’t have had to fight his way through half a mile of zombie cannibal looters, but I’m sure having a get-home bag, which included a rifle, probably made him feel a little better.

We moved out to the range and Randy started the students off with some dry practice in the various shooting positions. The first live drill exercised the different shooting positions from both shoulders. From 50 yards, the students shot five shots standing from their strong side, five shots kneeling, did a mag change, then did five shots prone. Then they switched to the support side shoulder and did five prone, another mag change, five kneeling, and five standing. Positions shooting from the support side shoulder and reloading while prone were clearly new to a lot of folks. I suggested that the students running shoulder bags swing their bag out in front of them when shooting prone. This makes mags a lot more accessible and even offers the possibility of using the bag to shoot off of (it’s probably too low to put the forend on, but you can plunk the mag down on it for a bit more height).

After giving everyone some experience on the support side, Randy concentrated on strong side position shooting for the next few drills. They worked shooting standing from 50 yards, then kneeling, then prone. The shoulder bag users really liked swinging the bag up for the prone work.

One of the things that really differentiates SI is our emphasis on dynamic movement. We had been putting together the building blocks for this on the first day with the caveman EOTech and shoulder transfers. Now it was time to pull it all together and shoot on the move. As with most things, the first step is to do it dry: take three steps to the right, turn and transfer to the left shoulder, then take three steps to the left, turn and transfer to the right shoulder. Once everyone had it down (and everyone was doing it pretty much in unison so we didn’t have shooters bumping into each other) we did it live. Three shots as you take three steps to the right, then three shots as you take three steps to the left. As Randy emphasized, this is just a drill. You’re not going to pace back and forth in front of an adversary while shooting on the move. This is just a way of practicing shooting on the move and transferring the gun from shoulder to shoulder during movement.

A more realistic application for these skills is shooting while getting off the X (GOTX). The “X” is where you were standing at the start of the fight, where the attacker expects you to be, and where all of the death and destruction he can muster is bearing down on. Standing there and shooting it out with him is like playing rock-em sock-em robots with guns. It’s not going to end well for you. It might not end well for him either, but which is more important to you: shooting the bad guy, or not getting shot yourself?

The way to avoid this is not to be standing on that X. We need to move, and move far enough and fast enough to change what the attacker sees so that he has to reorient himself and reacquire you as a target. In the meantime, we put a bunch of rounds into him so that he never gets that chance. The key here is to use the caveman EOTech skills we introduced on Saturday. These let you move much faster than you can if you’re intent on maintaining a traditional sight picture, yet they’re sufficiently accurate for shooting at the ranges where getting off the X is an appropriate response.

This is all pretty easy if you’re going towards your strong side. Unfortunately, that won’t always be an option. If there’s a wall to your right when your fight comes, you better know how to get off the X to your left. This is where the shoulder transition comes in. You can do the partial transfer (moving the stock but not switching your hands) and get the first shot off almost as quickly as you can going to the right. After taking more than one or two steps, this is going to get more and more awkward, so it’s usually best to swap hands after the first shot. We ran this several times getting off the X to the right (our dominant side for all but one student) then did it several more times going to the left. After giving everyone their first taste of getting off the X, we broke for lunch.

After lunch, Randy talked about the after action assessment. Plenty of people have gotten killed because they shoot the bad guy they see, then relax before the fight is really over. The guy you just shot may get back up or he may have friends. We need to remain aware, check for additional threats, and keep an eye on the guy(s) we just shot. Randy teaches this using the F.A.S.T. acronym (also known as the Wyatt protocol). This stands for Fight, Assess, Scan, and Take cover, Top off, Treat injuries, Talk to anyone who needs to be talked to. The Fight part of this is what we’d been working on the entire class so far. Assess means check out any attackers you shot at. Ask yourself “Did I hit him? Did it work?” Scan for any additional threats. Look left and right, moving your muzzle and eyes together in the contact ready position. There’s no sense looking with just your eyes and having to drive the gun to the target if you spot an additional attacker. Real life is not a square range where there are only targets in one direction, so you need to check behind you as well. This is where the Sul position comes in. Drop the muzzle down and you can turn around and safely look for threats behind you. The key here is to step forward when you turn, rather than pivoting in place or stepping backward. This will give you a little extra space between you and any potential adversary behind you. The various ‘T’s might not always be applicable to a situation, and the order they are performed in may vary. We want to get to a better position and Take cover if possible. Top off by performing a proactive reload to get your gun ready in case additional threats show up. Check yourself and your friends or loved ones for any injuries and Treat them if necessary (we do not advocate treating the attacker, he can fend for himself). By Talk to anyone who needs to be talked to, we mean calling 911, talking to witnesses, responding police officers, etc.

We ran the GOTX some more (just to the strong side this time) following it up with an after action assessment. One of the traps it’s easy to fall into is turning the scan a ‘tactical pirouette’. You swing from side to side then turn around, but you aren’t really looking, just going through the motions. To drive this point home, I made some silly faces or held up my knife during some of the scans, then asked folks what they saw.

Next up was transitioning to pistol. Transitioning to a pistol is much faster and simpler than reloading a rifle or clearing a malfunction. Most civilian rifle work is going to occur well within pistol range, and civilians generally can make the choice to carry a pistol in any circumstance when they’ve got a rifle on them, so this makes sense as a default when your gun doesn’t work. SI recommends a simple two-point sling and for most folks we recommend not tying yourself to your rifle. You may have to drop the rifle quickly when responding police officers show up, lest you get shot by the cops, and you may need to employ the rifle for home defense in situations where you don’t have time to climb into your nifty tactical sling. There are circumstances where being tied to your rifle makes sense, particularly if you may get blown up by a roadside bomb. It’s nice to have your rifle close at hand when you regain consciousness and the post-IED ambush starts. For those of us not operating in areas with an IED threat, not being tied to our rifle is generally the better choice.

One fellow in the class was running a one point sling that tied him to the gun, so all he had to do to transition is drop the rifle. If you’re not tied to the rifle, you’re going to have to do something with it when you transition. The method we teach is to bring the rifle up over your head and drop it so it hangs diagonally across your back. This gets the rifle out of your way, gives you two hands to access your pistol, and is reliable even at a dead run. For this to work properly, you need a long enough sling. Most folks showed up with their slings adjusted on the short side (especially folks who were used to using the sling as a shooting aid) but we were able to get everyone adjusted out long enough (though some were pretty marginal).

We ran through this dry a bunch of times, until everyone was able to do it safely, without muzzle sweeping the next guy in line. Then we went live with it. Now some folks run transition drills with full magazines and have the student put the safety on before transitioning. There are two problems with this. First, if you are doing anything dynamic, there’s a good chance the safety could get knocked off on some piece of gear. Second, you’re building in a training scar. For any malfunction on an AR where you get a click instead of a bang, you won’t be able to engage the safety. You don’t want to be standing there in the middle of a gunfight with your transition disrupted because you can’t get the safety on like you do in training. Train like you fight. The way we do this is to have each student load a mag with two rounds. They chamber the first one so they’ve got one in the chamber and one in the mag. Randy emphasized that he wanted students to try to fire a burst of at least four shots. This fires the two rounds in the rifle and makes absolutely sure it was empty. It’s important to be absolutely sure you’ve shot the rifle dry and it’s safe to transition. This also simulates a real gunfight, where it will probably take several failed trigger presses before you realize the gun doesn’t work.

The first time we did this live, one student found his pistol wouldn’t shoot. I examined it and it turned out the bump pad on a new 1911 mag was preventing the magazine from going all the way in. Luckily he had several mags with a different bump pad on them that worked.

A fair number of the people in this class were wearing thigh holsters. Many of them were adjusted way too low, closer to the knee than the hip. These shooters really had to stretch to reach their pistols. Thigh holsters should be run high enough that you can easily grasp the pistol’s grip. Closer to the hip is better. I could also tell which student had put a lot of time in practicing with his thigh rig and which students were new to this carry position. I think this is a pretty good argument for keeping the position of your pistol on your tactical rig as close as possible to your CCW rig. It’s one of the reasons I like running a shoulder bag so I can wear my actual EDC holster. I’m planning to go with a war belt for my more ‘tactical’ use rather than a chest rig for similar reasons.

We’d talked about malfunctions on Saturday, now it was time to give students some hands on experience with them. We divided the students up into groups and set out four rifles. While the student faced uprange, the instructors would set up four different malfunctions (an empty chamber, unseated magazine, stovepipe, and a failure to eject). The student had to turn around and fix each rifle in turn. Everyone managed to fix all the malfunctions and get the rifles going, but several people went to removing the magazine and reloading the rifle on malfunctions that could have been fixed with a simple tap-rack. Another problem occurred when a student clearing a double feed locked the bolt back to make it easier to get the mag out. He didn’t send the bolt forward until after he inserted a new mag, so it just rammed the top round from the mag into the back of the round that was still in the chamber. You’ve got to make sure to cycle the bolt and get everything out of the gun on these kinds of malfunctions.

The last drill of the day was the combat rundown. We ran this drill one student at a time. They started at 100 yards with 25 rounds in their rifle. First, they dropped prone for their first shot. They moved up to 75 and shot from sitting behind a barrel, then to 50 and shot kneeling from behind a tree, then standing at 25 yards from behind a barricade, then moved out from cover, fired their last five shots on the move, then transitioned to pistol and put five more in the target from about five yards. As Randy pointed out, this is just a drill. Assaulting over open ground like this by yourself would be suicide. It gives you a chance to practice moving with the rifle and getting in and out of different positions. It’s also a big, fun drill to cap things off with. Visually impressive too; I had several students ask me to take pictures while they ran it. Hopefully some of them will be willing to post some of them in this thread.

We finished up by presenting the certificates and asking what the students thought of the class. Everyone seemed pretty happy with it. The number one request was for cooler weather.

Conclusions

The AR often gets knocked for its reliability, but I was favorably impressed with how well most of these rifles ran. There were only two that gave significant problems. One was the AR in 7.62x39mm. This gun had some major magazine issues. When you turn a mag over, you shouldn’t have four or five rounds pour out. The problem was the follower was getting hung up on the transition between the curved portion and the straight portion of the magazine. The AR just wasn’t designed for such a tapered cartridge. The 7.62x39mm wants to feed through nice, curved magazines like the AK uses. When you try to run it through a mag that has a straight section to fit in the AR magwell, it’s going to cause issues. This gun also suffered quite a few stuck cases, some of which had to be beaten out with a range rod. During the transition drills, the student with this rifle finally got so frustrated with it he gave up and switched to his AK. That, I think, is the ideal solution. If you want to shoot 7.62x39mm, use a rifle designed for it.

The other troublesome rifle was one shooting Tula ammo. Hearing this, one might immediately jump on the “don’t shoot steel case in your AR” bandwagon, but none of the problems he had were extraction or chambering related issues you would expect if the case material was the problem. Instead, he was getting failures to fire. The firing pin strikes in the primers were nice and deep, so this was probably just a bad batch of primers. This gun also had a hammer pin start to walk out during the second day. Randy hammered it back in.

Other than these two guns, almost all the malfunctions we saw were operator induced. Failing to fully seat the magazine was the most common. We even had a discussion of whether not having a magazine in the gun when you started the drill counted as a malfunction (consensus was no).

Aside from the fact that some calibers don’t work in ARs, the most obvious learning point from the class was some of the gear issues. This is not intended as a criticisim of any of the students. Part of the reason to come to this class is to test how well your gear works. I’m not trying to knock anyone here, just to draw out some lessons for future students.

Suarez International is not gear focused. Yes, SI sells gear though One Source Tactical, but we aren’t going to tell you, “you must have this doohickey on your rifle or you will die!” We won’t look at you askance if your dump pouch isn’t the brand that OST sells. While we don’t care what brand of gear you bring, over the years we’ve found some setups work better than others.

Most folks brought rifles that worked pretty well. The biggest problem was having too much stuff bolted to your gun, but that’s easy to fix at the class with a screwdriver or hex wrench. A sling is pretty much mandatory, an optic is a nice addition, and maybe a flashlight if this is a home-defense gun. That’s about it.

The most common piece of additional equipment on the rifles in this class was the vertical foregrip. At SI we’re big advocates of the floating support hand. Basically, your support hand moves in and out depending on what you’re doing at the time. A VFG (or the MagPul AFG) tends to inhibit this. While there’s a bit of physical aspect to this, preventing you from sliding your hand easily forward and back, it seems to be as much mental as physical. A VFG tends to glue the support hand in one particular spot, even if that’s not the best spot for that hand at the time. Where this is really evident is during shoulder transfers. Hands stay on the VFG even if it’s a really long stretch, when it would be much easier to just grab the magwell instead.

The most troublesome accessory was a magnified optic with a very small field of view mounted on top of a carry handle. For what we’re doing, iron sights or a red dot are really much more useful than a magnified optic, especially one over four power. The top of the carry handle is a pretty lousy place to mount any sort of optic, as its way too high for any sort of reasonable cheek weld.

Another issue we ran into on some rifles was the stock length. The A2 stock, in particular, is really too long for the kind of shooting and manipulations we do. The A1 stock is workable, and a collapsible stock not extended all the way is pretty good. I got some interest on the Sully stock on my AR, which (in the configuration I have) is just about the right length.

I discussed slings earlier. There’s really no need to go for anything fancy here, as long as it’s long enough. Something like the Saiga sling OST sells, which is basically six feet of webbing and a couple of buckles works fine. A good test to see if your sling is long enough is to loop it behind your neck and hold the rifle horizontally across your chest. If the gun hangs at around belly button level the sling is about right

As far as support gear goes, the key is to have mags available to both hands, for doing reloads on the support side shoulder. A shoulder bag works for this because you can swing it around and access mags with your strong hand. Chest rigs place the mags where they’re easily accessible to both hands. On a belt rig, put one mag carrier on the strong side for support shoulder reloads. You also need a way to stow expended mags. Putting them back into mag pouches is far from ideal, both because it’s generally difficult, and because of the danger of grabbing an expended mag when you wanted a new one. If you’re using a shoulder bag, it works pretty well as a dump pouch (again, swing it around for the support side reload. With chest or belt rigs, a dump pouch of some sort is best. One solution to the ambidexterity problem is to put the dump pouch in the 6 o’clock position, accessible to both hands. Another solution with a chest rig is to tuck the expended mag behind the chest panel until you have a chance to move it to the dump pouch.

I certainly got a lot out of helping Randy teach the class. It was great to see how someone who really knows the platform taught it. Just as important, I got to see how a fairly big, diverse group of students responded to that instruction. What worked well, what things tripped them up, etc. I hope they learned half as much from me as I did from them. I’d like to thank Randy for letting me sit in on this excellent class. I’d highly recommend AR15/M4 Rifle Gunfighting and anything else Randy teaches.

Applegate Combat Point Shooting System

September 9, 2011

In late June I took the Applegate Combat Point Shooting System class taught by Steve Baron. This is a bit unique among Suarez International classes in that it was not developed within S.I. The curriculum was developed by Rex Applegate himself. Steve is one of three instructors certified by Applegate to teach the system.

I shot the class with my Glock 17 equipped with the RMR red dot sight. Of course, this being a point shooting class I didn’t get much use out of the dot. I also brought along my iron sighted Glock 17 as a backup. The Glock rode in a Dale Fricke Seraphim and I carried my extra magazines in Dale Fricke kydex as well.

The most common pistol in the class was the Glock (including two with RMRs). Two students shot 1911s, and one carried the Taurus version of the Beretta 92 with a frame mounted decocker.

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The class had six students, many of whom were also instructors of one sort or another. There were three S.I. instructors (Eric Pfleger, Craig Flaherty, and myself), along with another student who was a police firearms instructor. One of the remaining students was a Marine back from two tours over in the sandbox and the other was a citizen whose only previous training was getting his CCW permit.

The first day began in the classroom rather than on the range. After filling out the usual waivers and promising on video not to sue, Steve began by going through the history of point shooting.

These sorts of discussions often start with Fairbairn and Sykes. While they were the first to codify and popularize point shooting, they were not the first to shoot without sights. Steve began with European coachmen (who, in addition to chauffeuring the aristocracy around were also the predecessors of modern executive protection), American frontiersmen, cavalry raiders in the Civil War, and old west gunfighters. Nothing resembling an instructional text in point shooting from this era survives today, but there are some clues we can infer from. For instance, Applegate located a letter Wild Bill Hickok had written, but never mailed. In response to an inquiry from an eastern newspaperman about his shooting technique, Hickok described raising the pistol to eye level, pointing it like a finger, pausing for a brief moment, then pressing the shot. A more concise description of the basics of point shooting would be hard to find.

Several books written by veterans of World War I provide some more concrete and detailed examples of point shooting techniques. One I had heard of, but never read, is Herbert W. McBride’s memoir A Rifleman Went to WarThe Automatic Pistol by J.B.L. Noel is more explicitly a point shooting text, and is one I had not heard of before. Both of these are available today in reprints and I’ve already ordered both off them.

Steve continued by describing Fairbairn and Sykes’ development of their point shooting system in Shanghai. The level of violence in Shaghai at the time was just phenomenal. Criminals were shooting it out with each other several times per day, and the Shanghai Municipal Police were involved in several shootouts per week. Unfortunately, they weren’t always doing so well. The department lost nine officers in 1919, and an investigation was launched.

One of the repeating themes of this discussion was the constant tug-of-war between combat shooting and sport shooting. We see this today in the difference between the gamers (IDPA and IPSC shooters) and those like S.I. that are more fight focused, but this fundamental division goes back much further. In Shanghai, police training was heavily based on British Army bullseye competition, which was not realistically preparing officers for confrontations on the street. Fairbairn told the committee investigating the police death rate, “More attention is being paid to winning silver cups than in shooting to live.”

Fairbairn had made a practice to responding to every incident where shots were fired, and used this experience to describe a typical gunfight: it would take place at less than four yards, with very little warning, both the criminal and officer would be running, the officer would be in a high state of excitement and firing as quickly as possible, and all of this would probably be happening in dim light.

Fairbairn was given the go-ahead to revamp the S.M.P.’s training program. Together with Eric A. Sykes he refined his system and training methods during the 1920s and 30s. It was published asShooting to Live in 1942.

By that time the outbreak of World War II had led Fairbairn and Sykes to return to the U.K. They were commissioned as Captains in the British Army and put to work training, first the Home Guard, then the Commandos. Sykes remained there to train agents of the Special Operations Executive, while Fairbairn traveled to Canada and eventually to the U.S. to train agents for the Office of Strategic Services.

At around the same time, Rex Applegate, then a 1st Lieutennant in the Army, was assigned to the OSS and ordered to, “learn all there is to know about close combat with and without weapons.” Applegate trained with Fairbairn and traveled to England to train with Sykes and other organizations there. Upon his return, he helped Fairbairn set up a close combat training center for the OSS at a site in Maryland called Area B. Today it’s known as Camp David. After the OSS program was up and running, Applegate returned to the Army and set up a similar program for Military Intelligence at Camp Ritchie. His unit trained more than 14,000 soldiers between 1942 and 1946.

After World War II, many of the hard won lessons, and the success of those trained by Fairbairn, Sykes, Applegate, and others using point shooting techniques was slowly forgotten. Cooper’s Modern Technique, developed from shooting competitions rather than actual gunfights, became dominant.

Steven laid out some statistics based on studies of actual gunfights (mostly involving police). 55% are within five feet, 75% within ten feet, and 90% within 20 feet. Most occur in dim light and they are over very quickly, after only a few seconds. This sounds an awful lot like what Fairbarin was telling the Shanghai Municipal Police over ninety years ago.

While the conditions of the average gunfight haven’t changed much over the past 90 years, we now know quite a bit more about how the human body reacts to these conditions. Steve spent some time describing the effects of the Sympathetic Nervous System response, also known as the body alarm reaction or fight or flight response. These include visual changes, like tunnel vision, an inability to focus on close objects, and distorted perception of time and distance. The heart rate accelerates, causing fine and complex motor skills to deteriorate. The body drops naturally into a crouch and squares up to the threat.

Fairbairn, Sykes, and Applegate didn’t know about the SNS reaction when they were developing their point shooting systems; this research didn’t come along until much later. Nevertheless, it’s amazing how many of these reactions are incorporated into their point shooting doctrines. Squaring up to the target, crouching, focusing on the target, the convulsive grip are things that happen naturally. The research on the SNS reaction validates what Fairbairn and Sykes learned by observing countless gunfights on the streets of Shanghai.

At this point we broke for lunch. Steve put in a video of a WWII film taken at Area B, showing Fairbairn training a class of OSS agents, using a young Rex Applegate as a demo dummy, and showing the House of Horrors (a live fire shoot house intended to replicate the disorienting conditions of combat). One of the odd things about this film is that it was produced by John Ford, who in addition to being a noted director of Hollywood Westerns, was head of the OSS’s photographic unit.

After lunch, we had the safety briefing. While it was mostly pretty standard, Steve included a poem by noted English poet W. E. Fairbairn:

When unloaded you think you be,
Please don’t point your gun at me.
That it may unloaded be,
Matters not a damn to me.
So never, never, let your gun,
pointed be at anyone.
(unless justified!)

It was raining pretty good at the time, and we heard one lightning strike with no discernible interval between the flash and the thunderclap. Steve decided discretion was the better part of valor, so we did our initial dry fire practice indoors. We practiced starting standing in the low ready and dropping into the combat crouch. Initially we did this using he one handed point shoulder technique and later using two-handed isosceles. A significant amount of emphasis was placed on getting the crouch deep enough. A good rule of thumb is in a proper crouch, if you let your support arm dangle, the palm should be about level with your kneecap. If the heel of your back foot doesn’t come up off the ground, you’ve either got a freakishly flexible ankle or you aren’t dropping down low enough.

Steve also emphasized that this ‘low ready’ should be fairly high so the gun is visible in your peripheral vision. At close range it should be pointed at about belt level on the opponent. This makes it more akin to what we teach as contact ready than a traditional low ready.

One of the things I observed was that if you start in fairly high ready position and are dropping into a proper crouch, you’re not really swinging the gun up. What you’re really doing is dropping yourself down behind the gun. One of the reasons S.I. doesn’t teach the traditional low ready is that if you’re swinging the gun up, it has a tendency to overshoot. In the Applegate system, if you’re doing it right that’s not really a problem.

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In addition to practicing the combat crouch, we also worked the body point position. This is actually a relatively new addition to the Applegate system, added around the time he wrote Bullseyes Don’t Shoot Back with Janich and made the video “Shooting For Keeps”. It’s similar to the Fairbairn half hip position, except the elbow is braced in the front of the ribcage and the gun is on the body centerline.

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By this point the rain had slackened to a light drizzle, so we moved outside to do some live fire. We began with the same drill we had done in dry fire, dropping down into a combat crouch while raising the gun from the ready and firing one-handed. Steve emphasized the key points were a locked elbow, and flexing the wrist to the right (assuming you’re right handed) to align the barrel with the target. We began doing this at six feet, firing single shots.

In fairly short order, we proceeded to shooting pairs rather than singles, then started increasing the distances. We moved back all the way to 20 feet with this technique, shooting entirely without sights. Steve gave us lots of reps and included plenty of coaching.

Next we moved back up to six feet and did some single shots from the isosceles position (still in a nice deep crouch). Once everyone had the basics down we switched to doubles and started moving back. Steve threw in some triples as well, to test people’s recoil control. You might be able to get away with some flaws in the technique with one or even two shots, but once you start increasing the number of shots, you really have to have everything right. The number one problem with multiple shots is not gripping the gun hard enough. If you’ve got a gun with some nice aggressive checkering, like a Glock, one proof of the proper grip is to see the imprint of the checkering on your hand after a drill. Again, we took the isosceles out to around 20 feet.

With both eye level shooting techniques out of the way, we started working the body point position. This one we did from the holster rather than the ready. One question with this technique is what to do with the off hand. The important thing is not to let it get out in front of the muzzle. Steve favors loading it up for a hand to hand strike, because at the ranges where you’d use body point, going hand to hand is a real possibility. We shot this starting at about four feet and moved gradually back to around ten.

The last drill of the day was not part of the Applegate curriculum (as Steve emphasized whenever he deviated from the original scrip) but it was fun nonetheless. The drill simulated opening the door to someone who turns out to be a home invader. You fire two shots from the body point position then raise the gun to eye level and fire two shots to the head.

At this point the day was done and we wrapped things up.

Sunday

This morning we eschewed the classroom and began the day on the range. We started out with some review of the positions from the previous day. First was body point, worked at very close range. Next was shooting one handed from point shoulder, which we took back to fifteen feet. Then we did the same with isosceles.

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With everyone warmed up, Steve brought out the timer. This was another difference from most other S.I. classes. The idea was not so much to force people to meet a particular time standard, instead it was used to induce some stress into the drills. We ran most drills several times as a group, with the par time signaled by a beep or Steve calling out the time of the last shot. Then we ran it for a few reps one at a time, so we would each know our own time and feel the pressure of being on the clock. He also taped over our sights, to make sure we weren’t falling back on them for any of the drills.
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First up was drawing and shooting from body point. When you start with your hand on the gun (a typical police traffic stop situation) this is fast. Par time was 1.5 seconds, and everyone achieved that. I did it in 0.77, but Eric Pfleger had me beat by a hundredth of a second. He also had us run it once with our hands in a relaxed position (which in my case also meant from concealment). Even so, it was still quite speedy.

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Moving on, we did some work on the timer shooting from one-handed point shoulder. We started at five feet, then stepped back to ten, and fifteen. From the ready, we were doing single shots in half to three-quarters of a second. Next up were one-handed pairs at ten feet, which most folks were able to do in about 0.75 seconds. We saw some accuracy issues here, usually attributable either to not flexing the firing hand enough, or not locking the elbow. As Craig Flaherty put it, “When you actually use the technique, it works.”

Our next drill involved addressing adversaries to the sides or rear. The Applegate solution to this is to turn the whole body and shoot with the gun on the centerline. Swinging the gun arm only makes it likely you’ll either overshoot or undershoot your target under stress. Steve had us experience this by having us swing our arm and try to shoot under a very short par time.

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Because this drill involved having us face someplace other than downrange with the gun in low ready, we started out with a lot of dry work using either an empty hand or a blue gun. The key is to turn to face the target (preferably by stepping towards it rather than pivoting without moving your feet) and bringing the gun up at the same time. One thing he pointed out about using this to address targets to your rear is that stepping also moves you to the side a bit, so if someone is pointed in at you (particularly at the back of your head) you’re now out of their line of fire and in a position to shoot them. There were some houses a relatively short distance up range, so Steve didn’t have us do the full 180 with live guns, but we did 90 degree turns live.

At this point we broke for lunch. Steve arranged for his daughter to bring pizza and we watched “Shooting for Keeps”, a point shooting video Applegate made in the early ’90s.

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After lunch, we moved back to the range. The only position we hadn’t shot on the time yet was isosceles, so we did that from ten, fifteen, and twenty feet. Par time for a pair from the ready at all distances was one second.

For our next drill we started out at about twenty-five feet and moved in, shooting at twenty, fifteen, and ten. The hardest part of this drill for me was stopping to shoot. Applegate was not a fan of shooting on the move and this class remained true to that.

Next up was the body armor drill. This is another of the newer additions to the Applegate curriculum, as body armor was not that common (or effective) in the World War II era. Steve demonstrated three different methods for doing this. First up was the conventional body armor drill (also known as the Mozambique drill) of two to the body and one to the head. Next was two to the body and one to the groin area, beneath the vest. Third was the vertical track. You started at belt level in the ready position and worked your way up to the head, firing four or five shots along the way (basically what we call a zipper).

We shot this at around six feet. Steve had us shoot each method a couple times, then we shot it one at a time on the timer using whichever method we wanted. Most folks chose to do two to the body and one to the head. I did the vertical tracking, because I like the zipper and prefer being generous with my ammo. Interestingly, even though I was firing five shots and everyone else was doing three, I was in about the middle of the pack in terms of overall time (around 1.1 seconds). Besides the fact that I can run the trigger pretty fast, I think this shows how much time it takes to reposition the gun from the body to the head, versus just moving it smoothly up the torso, firing along the way.

We moved on to multiple adversaries. One of the perennial debates is whether you shoot each adversary multiple times, or if you give everyone one helping before giving anyone seconds. I get the feeling that Steve personally favors the latter, but in the Applegate system, the minimum number of bullets fired at each target is always two, so we shot pairs at each. We did this from around six feet, with two targets placed about two feet apart. We ran it from one-handed, isosceles, and body point. From each position we shot it left to right and right to left. What was interesting is that if you followed the Applegate method and reoriented the body by moving your feet, which direction was easier really depended on your footwork, rather than which hand you were shooting with.

Our next drill was shooting with obscured vision. This was included as a substitute for a low light section. Given that we were doing this on an outdoor range, and it doesn’t get dark until after 9:00pm this time of year, we would have been out here really late if we wanted to shoot in low light. Instead, Steve had some clear shooting glasses that he’d taken steel wool to to scratch them up. This left the lenses translucent, rather than transparent. These simulate something like getting doused with O.C. (without the accompanying pain) or having your vision obscured in some other way. When you put these on, you could vaguely see that there was a target there, but you certainly wouldn’t get any visual feedback from your gun. Nevertheless, if you were squared up with the target and performed the technique correctly, you got good hits.

The penultimate drill was one that goes all the way back to Fairbarin’s days with the Shanghai Municipal Police. The marching drill involves moving back and forth in front of some targets at successively closer distances. On each pass, the instructor calls out the fire command and you stop, turn towards whatever target you happen to be in front of, and fire twice. From the twenty foot line, you use your sights. From fifteen, you point shoot from the isosceles position. From ten feet, you use one-handed point shooting, and from five you use the body point position. This was the first time in the entire class I got to use my fancy red dot sight.

The last drill was the serpentine. Steve put target sticks up at four, eight, twelve, sixteen and twenty feet, in a line between a pair of targets. We had to slalom between them, stopping next to each stick to fire at the target on that side, using whatever position we thought appropriate.

That wrapped up the live fire portion of the class. Steve had been saving all the cardboard targets from the class. He laid them out and asked us to count the number of holes on the cardboard outside the silhouette. There were 64 misses. Throw in a few more that missed the target entirely and it works out to better than 97% hits, all without using sights. Pretty impressive.

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After policing up the brass, we adjourned to the classroom and wrapped things up. Steve had a feedback form for us to fill out. In addition to answering any remaining questions we had, he also gave out his phone number and email address to the students, in case we had any questions after we left. He gave Craig Flaherty, the local S.I. instructor, a chance to promote his classes. Steve’s daughter had taken a class photo for us earlier, and had been taking some other pictures this afternoon. She made a run to Walmart to have some prints made and we all got a nice big version of the class photo and a chance to snag any of the action shots that showed us looking particularly cool. Steve passed out the certificates and with this, we were done. I have to say I was sorry to see the class end.

Conclusions

I was really happy with this class. Steve is definitely a top flight instructor and he clearly knows this material backwards and forwards. It was pretty cool to get the Applegate point shooting system directly from someone Rex Applegate certified to teach it.

Much like Roger’s Point Shooting Progressions class, this is a point shooting marksmanship class, with relatively little emphasis on gunhandling or the context of the fight more broadly. While this class does a great job teaching shooting skills, I think it definitely needs to be accompanied by a more general gunfighting class like CRG that covers stuff like malfunction clearance and after action drills, and places more emphasis on drawing from the holster.

Speaking of PSP, I’m sure folks are wondering how this class compares to Roger’s. Let me state up front that they’re both great classes to take and very worthwhile. PSP is at a more advanced level, but in a lot of ways it’s like drinking from a fire hose. This class, and the Applegate curriculum going all the way back to World War II was designed to start with inexperienced shooters and get them trained up. I think that if you took this class first, it would give you a really solid foundation for the stuff that Roger does.

Speaking of inexperienced shooters, one of the things that really impressed me was how well this curriculum works for getting people up to speed quickly. There was a pretty wide range of experience levels in the class. As I mentioned earlier, the only previous experience one of the students in this class had was the class to get his Ohio CCW permit. That he was able to keep up with shooters of considerably more experience is a credit both to him and to the curriculum. Steve mentioned that the average training time Applegate had to train an agent during World War II was only 16 hours, and in that time they had to cover the pistol, rifle, and submachine gun. If you need to get someone up to a functional level with a pistol very quickly, this sort of point shooting is the way to go.

This was a really great class. Steve has been teaching firearms for a long time and does an excellent job of it. In addition to the point shooting skills, I picked up some tips as an instructor that are going to be really useful in the future. I want to thank my fellow students, particularly Craig Flaherty and Eric Pfleger. Their camaraderie and fellowship helped make this a really fun experience. I also need to thank Steve’s daughter for bringing lunch Sunday and some excellent photography.

I would highly recommend this class, both as a solid introduction point shooting and as a historical link to those who have gone before us. It’s not often you can train with someone with such a direct link to Applegate, and through him to Fairbarin and Sykes. I would highly recommend this class, and indeed anything Steve teaches.

Discuss the Applegate Combat Point Shooting System class on Warriortalk.

Photos by Eric Pfleger and Steve’s daughter.

Long Gun Point Shooting Progressions

September 9, 2011

In late May I attended Roger Phillips’ Long Gun Point Shooting Progressions class. This is one that I’ve been wanting to take for a long time, ever since Roger first announced it. When he finally put it on the schedule for some place closer than Las Vegas, I jumped at the chance.

I brought a lot of gear to this class. My primary fighting rifle is an Arsenal SLR-107F with an Ultimak mounted Aimpoint Micro. As a backup, and in case there was anything I wanted to try with an iron sighted rifle, I also brought my SGL-21. Both rifles were fed with the excellent US PALM AK30 magazines. I recently finished putting together an AR as a training and teaching gun, and I figured this class might be a good opportunity to get some practice in with it, so I brought it along too. It’s got a Bravo Company midlength lightweight upper on a Palmetto State Armory lower. I’m currently running an EOTech on it and feeding it with PMAGs. Finally, because the class is Long Gun Point Shooting Progressions, I also decided to bring my 870. When I was last playing with this gun at Alex Nieuwland’s SI Shotgun Gunfighting class, I was a bit frustrated with the length of the stock, so when I decided to bring it to this class, I replaced the standard stock with a Choate Youth/Body Armor stock/pistol grip combo. On the pistol side of things I brought a pair of Glock 17s, one of which just had an RMR installed on the slide by TSD.

To support all this ordinance I brought a couple different setups. For the rifles I brought my usual sneaky bag, which would work equally well for the AR and AK. I also brought along an Insurgent Chest Rig. In my own life, I don’t foresee a whole lot of circumstances where I’d use a chest rig, but other people’s situations may differ. Part of being an instructor is being able to look beyond your own context and experience to those of your students. So I brought the chest rig to get some experience so I could do a better job teaching my students who are in situations where chest rigs or mag carriers mounted on body armor make sense. To go with the rig, I brought along left and right handed Dale Fricke mag pouches to go on each hip. The belt mounted mag pouches are the primary source of ammunition, which can be refilled with a mag from the chest rig or the rifle can be reloaded from the chest rig directly. I’ve heard good things about this setup from others and found it very suited to ambidextrous shooting during dry practice prior to class. I ran an EMDOM dump pouch on the belt as a receptacle for spent magazines.

For the shotgun, I’ve got an old Hawkepack rifle fighting bag with three sets of elastic loops for shotgun shells velcroed inside. The top two sets hold birdshot/buckshot while the bottom holds slugs. I usually load up the loops then dump the remainder of the box of birdshot into the bottom of the pouch for extras. It’s particularly nice that the the seven round capacity of each set of elastic loops happens to match the capacity of my 870.

The Sneakybags and shotgun bag work fine with my normal CCW holsters, but the combination of a CCW holster and a chest rig is not permitted at SI classes. For the chest rig, I decided to just use the rightmost pocket to hold my pistol. I was a bit nervous about having a Glock in there with the trigger covered only by the fabric of the chest rig, so I stuck a Gideon Elite kydex holster in there and secured it with a zip tie through the drain grommet.

Now, with all this relatively new gear, I’m breaking one of my own rules: don’t bring new or untested gear to a class. The AR has only been through two range sessions and some dry work. One of the Glocks and 870 have only seen one range session since they got the RMR and Choate stock, respectively. I’ve only used the chest rig during dry practice. However, I decided to bring them anyway, because I figured that if I started paying more attention to trying to get my gear to run than what Roger was teaching, I could always switch back to an AK, sneakybag, and an iron sighted Glock, all of which are reliable and I know how to use quite well.

Several of us kicked things off on Friday night by getting together for dinner. The group included SI instructors John Meade and Rick Klopp. As usual, the fellowship was excellent.

Saturday

We had a total of 13 people in the class, including several SI staff instructors (Rick Klopp, John Meade, CR Williams (Richard), and myself). There were quite a few familiar faces in the class, including many of the regular attendees at SI classes in the southeast. There was even a student from one of my CRG classes, and it was quite welcome to see one of my former students going on to further instruction like this. The majority of the rifles in the class were AKs, but there was a strong minority of ARs (including two SBRs with suppressors). There was a pretty even split between iron sighted guns and those with optics. I was able to evaluate the various guns as they sat on the rifle rack, which seemed like the height of luxury for someone used to carrying a rifle all day in Gabe’s classes. It did make my golf bag worth of long guns easier to deal with though.

Roger started off with his usual extensive safety lecture. In addition to going over the safety rules, he also designated individuals to attend to the wounded, call 911, etc. in the event of an accident. We had two doctors (including John) and one EMT (Rick Klopp) in the class, so were fairly well set for medical experience.

Going on, Roger talked about the context of the skills we would be learning. Sighted fire techniques are an optimal skillset, for use in optimal situations (ones where you have the advantage and start off in a good position on the reactionary curve). Point shooting skills are for suboptimal situations, where you are behind the curve and don’t have all the advantages of an optimal situation.

Roger lecture croppedOur first subject was mounting the rifle. Roger analogized it to drawing a pistol, In a gunfight, the draw is the thing you’re most likely to screw up, and the mount is much the same. It sets the basis for everything that follows. He demonstrated the mount, stressing the importance of eliminating unnecessary movement. Direct, linear motions are most efficient, while little bobbles or circular motions of the muzzle generally signal some sort less than optimal mount. A good mount is of paramount importance for point shooting, but it will also improve your sighted shooting as well. With sighted shooting, a good mount means the sights will be right there when you mount the gun, versus having to hunt around to get them aligned. One element he emphasized was the need to leave space between the stock and the shoulder, then bring the rifle back to the pocket, to avoid snagging on gear. I had some experience with this problem myself in the Shotgun Gunfighitng class a few months ago, when the combination of a GoreTex jacket and a shotgun with a long stock and a grippy rubber butt pad caused me some trouble. He also talked about working the mount in slow motion, to discover small problems, at full speed, and doing overspeed training.

We began our work on the range doing dry practice mounting the gun. We started from slung, then worked our way through Sul, patrol ready, high ready, port arms, contact ready, and close contact ready. I’ve had experience with most of these, but the one that was fairly new to me was high ready (stock at the hip, gun angled upward with the muzzle at eye level). Roger really likes this position (probably a result of lots of bird and clay target shooting experience).

One thing he pointed out that I hadn’t really appreciated before is the relationship between the ready position and the shooting position. We’d be doing a lot of shooting from positions other than the full shoulder mount in this class, but not all shooting positions flow logically from all ready positions. If you’re in Sul with the stock of the rifle on your shoulder, for example, it doesn’t make much sense to drop the stock down to waist level and shoot from the hip. On the other hand, if you’re in patrol ready and face a close range, high urgency threat, shooting from the hip makes sense.

We shot an initial group offhand from 25 yards, using the sights. Most folks did well here, they had the sighted fire skillset down. Then we moved in and shot another group from seven yards. Roger used these groups to demonstrate sight offset (the fact that the sights on AKs and ARs are substantially higher than the barrel, meaning the gun will shoot below the line of the sights up close). He had us shoot another group holding over the target point to compensate for sight offset.

That was the last time we’d focus on the sights all day. We began the point shooting part of the program with some shots using Type 2 focus (same relationship between the sights and your eyes as sighted fire, but focusing on the target rather than the front sight). We did this at fifteen yards, and most folks had groups as good or better than their 25 yard sighted shots. I had a decent group, but they were about four inches to the left of where I was aiming. I’d shot right on in the sighted fire drills, so I know it wasn’t that the sights were off. Roger was initially mystified, but I had a guess what was going on. I’d shot the first group with both eyes open. When I shot another closing my non-dominant eye, the group was dead on. Something about the way my eyes work causes this issue.

The next topic was the caveman EOTech (credit for the name goes to SI instructor Randy Harris). Basically, you superimpose the front sight tower of an AK or AR on the target and as long as the target is bigger than the sight tower, your odds of hitting are pretty good. Initially, Roger had us shoot this at fifteen yards, which may have been a bit over-ambitious. My group was quite high at this range (around chin level when I was aiming at the chest). I’d never really shot caveman EOTech this far out, and I was using the same sight picture I used inside of seven yards, which clearly wasn’t working. I wasn’t the only one with issues. Roger brought us back in to seven yards and had us shoot again, with much better results. Then he gradually moved us back to fifteen, allowing us to adjust to the greater distance more gradually.

Finally, we moved to shooting over the top of the gun. This was getting into territory I hadn’t really done much with, but I found it pretty similar to shooting over the gun with a pistol. However, with four points of contact, it was much easier to get good hits at a given distance with a rifle. We started in nice and close, at three yards, then move gradually back to beyond ten.

With that, we broke for lunch. Even before lunch, Roger placed a lot of emphasis on proper hydration. The weather could have been much worse, but it was still a pretty warm day and we were sweating quite a bit. I sucked down lots of liquids and I still probably wasn’t drinking enough.

After lunch I switched from my AK to my AR. We did a few more drills shooting over the top of the gun. We followed that up by lowering the gun a couple of inches, putting the stock about halfway between the armpit and top of the shoulder, rather than at the top of the shoulder the way we want it. This simulates a failure to get a good mount. If you have to get to your sights and the gun ends up this low, you’ll either have to adjust the gun or try to cram your face down onto the stock. If you have a good point shooting skillset, however, it may degrade your accuracy a bit, but you can still shoot just fine. Again, we started at three yards and gradually moved back to about seven. At this point, Roger gave his combat accuracy lecture, drawing on some of John’s knowledge of anatomy to explain what some of the lower torso and shoulder hits we were getting would do.

Next, we dropped the gun even further, down to the close contact ready position (also known as underarm assault). Roger introduced the combat crouch here. The combat crouch is pretty widely misunderstood. It gets a lot of grief from modern technique shooters who don’t realize it’s really intended as a movement platform, rather than a static shooting stance. In a way, I found dropping into a combat crouch more natural with a long gun in the underarm assault or hip positions than I do with a pistol.

Our last step in below the line of sight shooting was to drop the gun all the way to the hip. Some folks carrying their pistols in appendix found that the best place for the stock was on top of their holsters (not only is the Archangel a great carry holster, it’s also a rifle recoil absorber!). One thing that surprised me was just how well the hip position handles recoil. You can really rip shots off fast this way. Again, we started from three yards and stepped back to about seven. I was quite impressed with how far out you could take some of these way below line of sight techniques with a long gun.

We moved on to pistol transitions. The transition itself was the standard S.I. one where you throw the rifle on your back, which most of the students had previous experience with. We started out with dry rifles and live pistols and did the drill that way several times. Then Roger had us load 2-3 rounds, shoot the rifle dry (and you want to make sure it’s dry before transitioning, no tossing a loaded rifle on your back) then transitioned to pistol.

Next up were transfers. We started out with the usual transfer drill: shoot two from the strong side shoulder, do a partial transfer and shoot two, full transfer and shoot two, partial transfer back to the primary shoulder and shoot two, lather, rinse, repeat. Next we did the same thing shooting from underarm assault. This got a bit interesting because from the support side my AR tended to pelt my chest and strong side arm with brass. I didn’t quite do the hot brass dance, but I did to the hot brass wiggle to get some cases off my strong side arm.

Roger introduced the bayonet transfer. It’s called this not because you have to have a bayonet attached to your rife, but because you thrust the rifle forward much like you would to stab someone with a bayonet. From underarm assault you drive the rifle forward towards your focal point on the target. As you do so, you press off a round. It’s important to do this as you’re driving the rifle forward, not when it gets to full extension, because as it gets to it’s limit of extension it’s going to wobble and that will throw off your shot. From the fully extended position, you use your support hand on the magazine to haul the rifle back to your support side shoulder. If you do this quickly enough, inertial alone will keep the rifle steady in your support hand and you can start the hand transfer before the rifle hits your support side shoulder. This is difficult, but done properly, this is very quick and gets a round into a close-up target. Roger has certainly mastered this technique, but I think he’s still working on the best way to teach it to people. He solicited our feedback on how to teach this and I think that his ability to get this across to students is only going to increase.

Last up was “Katrina baton twirling”. These are methods for going from a strong side Sul or port arms to address targets on the opposite side. Going from Sul uses the same ‘golf swing’ technique that we teach for addressing threats to one side in the Rifle Gunfighting classes. From port arms it’s a little different because you’re going over the top, but the principle is similar. In both cases, the secret is that for most of the swing you’re really controlling the rifle with your support hand on the magazine. People try to do too much with their primary hand and end up fouling things up.

We each had to demonstrate this dry, one at a time with Roger standing right next to us to be sure that we could do this safely without muzzling the next person on the line. Once he was satisfied with everyone’s performance, we did it dry as a group in each relay, then went live with it.

This concluded our first very full day of class. We packed up all our stuff and headed back to the hotel. We had time for a shower (and for me to get a start on this writeup), then met for dinner at a local Mexican place. The fellowship was excellent as usual. As the evening wore on most of the students drifted away and Roger, Rick, John and I ended up having a nice discussion among the instructors.

Sunday

We reconvened at 8 o’clock the next morning. As with Roger’s pistol PSP classes, the second day would involve less shooting, but a lot more movement. CR Williams wasn’t felling well and felt that he wasn’t up to shooting. He (wisely) decided to sit out the drills this morning.

The day began with an extensive lecture by Roger about dynamic movement. He talked about the combat crouch and it’s relationship with the body’s natural fight or flight response. There was extensive discussion and demonstration of the takeoff continuum. For a long time SI taught the Pekiti takeoff, and later supplemented/supplanted it with the enhanced Pekiti, which Roger discovered and Gabe helped codify. Then Sonny came along with the Russian takeoff, which provided another approach to the same problem. Roger’s latest contributions are the takeoff continuum and the two-footed takeoff. “Continuum” seems to be Roger’s favorite word. In this case, he took the different techniques and reconceptualized them as particular parts of a broad range of takeoff footwork. The traditional Pekiti takeoff is at one end of the continuum, getting all of it’s drive force from the rear leg. The enhanced Pekiti is at the other end, getting it’s drive force from the front leg. In between is what Roger calls the two-footed takeoff, which gets drive power from both legs. This can be 50%/50%, 60%/40%, or whatever combination of force on each leg the situation dictates. What’s appropriate depends on the amount of telegraphing that’s acceptable, whether or not you’re already moving (the Pekiti works best for changing direction rapidly on the move), your level of athleticism, and the quality of the footing.

Our first drill of the day was experimenting with the effect of mounting the gun versus floating it during dynamic movement. If you mount the gun solidly, it transfers more of the jarring from each footfall to the gun, bouncing the muzzle up and down. If you float the gun, leaving an inch or so between the stock and your shoulder, your arms act as shock absorbers, leading to less bounce with each step. We tried each method dry while charging straight in towards the target to see the difference, then went live and did the same as we practiced practiced floating the gun. There really is quite a bit of difference, and floating the gun makes it possible to move much more rapidly while still maintaining an acceptable degree of accuracy.

The next drill was the parallel tracking drill. We did an enhanced Pekiti, then moved forward towards the target on a line parallel to the original line of force. Compared to charging right in, this allows you to close rapidly with the adversary while making it a bit harder for them to hit you. It also allows you to flank the enemy rather than colliding with them if they’re still standing when you get there. Still, in the balance of hitting and not getting hit, this is pretty far towards the hitting side (which is sometimes appropriate). Rather than shooting all at once, or even dividing into relays, we did this drill two at a time. Students shot at the targets on the extreme right and left sides of the range, giving a wide separation between them. Furthermore, the students on the right side did their parallel track to the left of the target and vice versa. This meant that the students moved a bit closer to each other, but their fire was angled away.

During this drill, one student had a rather odd malfunction in his AR. A case failed to eject, but instead of stovepiping, it spun around 180 degrees and the bolt shoved it into the chamber backwards. Without a rim available for the extractor to get a grip on, there was no easy way to clear it. He knocked it out with a rod, and it might have been possible to clear the case by mortaring the gun (pounding the buttstock on the ground while pulling back on the charging handle), but there was no quick or easy way to get the gun back operational.

John run

Next up were the forward oblique angles (the 1 o’clock and 11 o’clock). We ran the drill first at three yards, then at ten yards, to get a feel for how range dictates the technique you use. At three yards, you can shoot from the hip or underarm assault and get good hits, at ten you need a solid shoulder mount. At three you can move very rapidly, while at ten it requires a more measured pace.
At this point we broke for lunch. During lunch, Roger sold some swag (t-shirts, his book, and his DVDs, which I recommend highly). He also gave the SI instructors in attendance a chance to pitch their upcoming classes and did a pitch for Steve Barron’s Applegate Combat Point Shooting System class.

After lunch, I swapped back to my AR and a sneakybag (I’d been using my AK and a chest rig that morning).

The next drill was incorporating the Katrina baton twirling into a GOTX drill. We did this drill one at a time. The student started walking along the firing line from right to left, necessitating a shoulder transition before we started shooting (everyone in the class was right handed). When we reached the first target, we reacted as if it were a threat and got off the X in the direction we were already headed, using one of the baton twirling techniques to get the gun on target. As we ran down the line we let off a round or two into each target. The first time through we ran this from Sul, making the golf swing technique appropriate. The second time started in port arms, so we went over the top. During my second run at this drill I got a click instead of a bang on my second shot. Because one of my goals was learning how to run the rifle (my first AR malfunction, yay!) I decided to fix the gun rather than performing the more tactically appropriate transition to pistol. I slapped the bottom of the magazine and sure enough, it rose about half an inch. I worked the charging handle (making me really glad I had the medium BCM Gunfighter handle, since it’s easer to run with the rifle on your left shoulder than the stock one) and resumed firing.

Richard had been sitting in the shade nursing bottles of water all day, but he was looking even worse than he did this morning. He reported feeling nauseous and was very lethargic. The consensus of our medical team (John Meade, another student with an M.D., and EMT Rick Klopp) was that he needed to go to the hospital. As Rick was about to take him, another group of people showed up wanting to use the range and as host, Rick had to deal with them. While he was doing this, Richard started dry heaving his guts out. Rick too him to the hospital. When Rick returned towards the end of class, he said that the diagnosis was dehydration and low sodium level (not surprising since he’d been sweating a lot and hadn’t eaten anything since lunch the previous day).

Back to long gun point shooting, next up were the rear oblique angles (5 and 7 o’clock). Unlike with pistols, we don’t really have the option of doing a transfer or going one handed, you just have to try to shoot back over your shoulder. However, you can make this much easier by sacrificing the perfect mount. Yesterday we shot with the stock below the usual mounting position, but here we move it outward, either bracing it against the bicep, or floating the gun without any stock support entirely (eminently doable with relatively light recoiling calibers like the .223 and 7.62×39). In combination with this it’s often easier to cant the gun to the side (to the left when shooting from the right side) and point shoot by aligning down the barrel. We ran this drill two at a time, with the student on the right going to the 7 o’clock, the one on the left going to the 5 o’clock, and Roger in the middle playing traffic cop to make sure there wasn’t any interference between the two shooters. We did the drill at a walking pace first, then stepped up the speed.

For our next drill, we began by walking toward the target, then on command we did the bayonet thrust shot and got off the X to the right or left (one time each way). A proper bayonet shot really requires you to be going from the underarm assault position to get enough of a linear movement to stabilize the rifle, so this drill only works well if you start out in a ready position where it’s natural to go to underarm assault, like patrol ready or high ready. It really doesn’t make much sense if you’re starting in Sul with the butt already up on your shoulder. I did much better the second time when I started in patrol ready.

Finally, for our last drill, to put it all together, we did the zig-zag drill. You start out at contact distance with the target and get off the X to a rear oblique, then move back and forth getting gradually further, firing at the target as you move. If you’re careful to move more laterally than pack, you can get through two mags before getting out to fifteen yards where Roger called your run to a halt. This drill test the ability to safely change movement directions, shoulder transfers, and the ability to vary shooting position and pace depending on the range. I’ve done this before with a pistol in the PSP class, so I was able to burn through two full mags before Roger called a halt. My AR was literally smoking as some of the lube burned off from the heat (this would be a greet drill for one of the Surefire 100 round mags).

We wrapped things up with the presentation of certificates and a group picture. Afterwards, some of us shot around a bit. Roger invited us to play with shotguns some, since we no longer had to worry about tearing up the targets, but nobody seemed to interested, so my 870 remained unshot for the weekend. I did have a chance to shoot a Caracal pistol, a new design from the United Arab Emirates that one of the students brought (he knows the importer). It was interesting, very Glocklike, but with kind of a funky backstrap and longer trigger reset. I also let Rick Klopp shoot my new RMRed Glock.

With that we reluctantly broke up and went our separate ways.

Conclusions

As expected, this was a great class. It was definitely up to Roger’s usual high standard. I’ve taken PSP, APSP, and now Long Gun PSP and my only regret is that there aren’t any more PSP classes out there for me to take. I guess I’ll have to be content with redoing or helping Roger out with existing classes.

There was some discussion both in the class, and when the instructors were chatting after dinner on Saturday night, about what sort of experience students should have before taking this class. Most of this focused around whether students need to have taken Roger’s Point Shooting Progressions class before taking the Long Gun PSP class. I don’t know if it’s absolutely vital, but I definitely think that students who have taken PSP will get more out of this class than those who haven’t. PSP includes a lot of explanation of the underlying concepts that Roger doesn’t cover again in this class. He tells you what you need to do to point shoot with a rifle, but doesn’t get into the the background of why nearly as much. If you haven’t taken PSP, you really need to at least read Roger’s Point Shooting Progressions book before coming to get some of the conceptual background.

Even more than PSP, I really think a student needs to have taken a SI rifle class. At the very least the basic level Fighting Rifle Skills class, but better yet the intermediate Rifle Gunfighting (or it’s weapon specific equivalents, Kalashnikov Rifle Gunfighting or AR15/M4 Rifle Gunfighting). Long Gun PSP covers only a narrow subset of rifle gunfighting, but it delves very deeply into that subset. The other rifle classes are much broader, covering topics like reloads, malfunction clearance, after action drills, and position shooting that this class doesn’t. This is the first SI rifle class where I never needed my knee pads (heck, I wore shorts the second day, which I would never do in any of the other rifle classes). The deep look at rifle point shooting is really great, but you also need the broader material in order to be a well rounded rifle gunfighter.

I was generally pleased with my gear in this class. I didn’t get to shoot the shotgun, but all three rifles ran fine. During the afternoon of the first day, I did notice the AR was a bit reluctant to go back into battery after I did a chamber check. I added a bit of oil, and slathered some more on that evening and the problem went away. Lest Don Robison accuse me of slandering the AR, I should hasten to add that this only occurred when chamber checking and never affected my shooting. The only actual malfunction I suffered was entirely operator induced (got to remember to check that the mag is seated).

The support gear all ran well. The sneakybag performed like a champ, as always. I don’t especially love the chest rig, but it worked fine. I really do like the combination of the EMDOM dump pouch and the Dale Fricke mag carrier on the belt. The mag pouch on the right side for left-hand reloads is pretty slick too. I think my next set of rifle support gear may be a HSGI MOLLE belt with some taco mag carriers and a dump pouch in a similar configuration.

I talked about CR Williams’ dehydration troubles in this writeup (and did so by name with his permission) not to be critical of him in any way, but because this serves as such an important lesson. Indeed, Richard’s decision not to do any shooting on Sunday should garner considerable praise. He was cognizant of his condition and made the difficult, but wise decision that he wasn’t in any shape to be doing dynamic shooting drills.

This was not a particularly hot class, compared to some SI classes. The high temperature was in the mid ’80s both days an it was not excessively humid. The fact that we had a student go down with dehydration in such relatively moderate conditions should give everyone pause. Proper hydration is not just for ‘extreme’ temperatures.

Read Roger’s article on hot weather training. Read John Meade’s thread on dehydration. Follow their advice! As someone who grew up in Arizona doing a lot of stuff outdoors, I can attest from personal experience that they’ve got it right. If you haven’t been drinking a lot even before the class starts, you’re not drinking enough. If you don’t feel like you’re drinking too much, you’re not drinking enough. If you aren’t pissing every hour, you’re not drinking enough. If you’re piss isn’t clear, you’re not drinking enough! To this last point, some will say “but my piss is always yellow!” Well, that means you’re walking around in a constant state of mild dehydration. As long as you’re spending your time in air conditioned buildings and not exerting yourself much, you can get away with this, but if you spend a day or two outside in warm weather, doing physically demanding stuff, it will bite you in the ass!

I learned a lot in this class (and not just about dehydration). When I took Advanced AK and Kalashnikov Force on Force from Gabe last June, I felt there was a bit of a disconnect. In the Advance AK class, we did all of our live fire from a high shoulder mount. We did to caveman EOTech point shooting, but it was all from the shoulder. In the rifle FoF class, we often ended up shooting from underarm assault or the hip (with Gabe’s encouragement). This class has really filled in that disconnect and provided some below the line of sight rifle shooting skills for those high urgency, close range situations. Roger really does a great job covering both the major techniques, like below line of sight shooting, and the small subtleties, like choosing your shooting position based on where the stock is in your ready position. This is really a great class and is a welcome addition to my stock of rifle gunfighting knowledge. Anyone who has taken the full SI rifle curriculum (Fighting Rifle Skills, Rifle Gunfighting, Advanced Rifle Gunfighting, Rifle Force on Force, and now Long Gun Point Shooting Progressions) and truly mastered these skills would be a dangerous man with a rifle indeed. As usual, Roger’s teaching was superb. I would highly recommend Long Gun Point Shooting Progressions, along with everything else Roger teaches.

Fighting in Structures – Part 3: How CQB fits into the SI Curriculum

June 6, 2011

Chris Upchurch – Suarez International Staff Instructor

Suarez International’s CQB: Fighting in Structures class is a bit different from most classes we teach. It involves no live fire and, at most venues, no force on force either. While there are some physical aspects to it, this is much more of a mental skill. As Gabe puts it, CQB is more like chess than MMA.

Because CQB is a non-shooting class, we don’t have any prerequisites for it. There’s no safety reason to require any previous experience or advanced gunhandling skills. That said, to get the most out of it, you need to develop certain shooting skills to go with your CQB skillset.

The shooting skills that go into CQB draw on a variety of SI classes. Perhaps foremost are our point shooting classes. During CQB you’ll make heavy use of the retention continuum and non-standard shooting positions. Full extension with a hard focus on the sights is going to be the exception rather than the rule. Point Shooting Gunfight Skills, Point Shooting Progressions, and Advanced Point Shooting Progressions teach the fundamentals of point shooting and shooting below the line of sight, and progressively bring these skills to a very high level.

As mentioned in the previous article in this series, SI’s CQB tactics incorporate the same sort of shooting during dynamic movement that we teach in many of our classes. The bedrock class for this is Close Range Gunfighting, but we develop these skills further in Extreme Close Range Gunfighting, Point Shooting Progressions and Advanced Point Shooting Progressions. If you’re using a long gun for home defense, our Rifle Gunfighting class (and it’s AK and AR specific bretheren) Shotgun Gunfighting, and Long Gun Point Shooting Progressions can give you the skills for point shooting and shooting during dynamic movement using these platforms.

Finally, there is no substitute for actual, hands on experience. Short of getting into a gunfight, a force on force class is the best way to gain this experience. Our force on force classes give you a chance to practice point shooting during dynamic movement against real live adversaries, and do a great job preparing you for a CQB confrontation. In tight quarters, CQB can quickly turn into a hands-on confrontation, so the skills taught in our 0-5 feet class are useful as well.

Now, you certainly don’t have to take all of these classes before coming to CQB. Indeed, you don’t have to take any of them beforehand. If you have taken some of these classes, when you take CQB you’ll see how useful those skills are. If you take CQB first, then some of these other classes, you’ll see how these skills allow you to put what you learned in CQB into practice. The more you build up these skills, the more effective you’ll become.

Sign up for Suarez International’s CQB classes.

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