Zeroing the rifles

Trident Concepts conducted a 3-day Combative Carbine, Level Two class in Brainerd, MN recently. The class was made up of various LE as well as some range staff personnel from a newly constructed indoor range and private citizens. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, it was mostly in the high 70°s with a few afternoons getting up to the 80°s. I for one was pretty happy there wasn’t any humidity after just leaving Florida.

We mustered at a local LE department and conducted our introductions and ballistic briefs. I really enjoy giving this brief as it optimizes the rifleman mindset. You don’t have to have a sick understanding of ballistics, but you do have to have a simplified understanding and I believe the brief does a great job of explaining those concepts. The idea behind Point Blank Range is really not having to think or compute formulas and holds, but to recognize the left and right limits of your equipment. To understand the trajectory and corresponding distances so you can make first round lethal strikes. We hear talk about how most will not shoot at these distances, but my biggest pet peeve with the rifle/carbine is when we treat it like a sub-gun. It is not and while a large majority of shootings will occur at close range, we are seeing a large amount occurring outside of traditional distances, challenging the equipment and shooter. I would rather the student have the knowledge and skills, but not need them than to need them and not have them. Accuracy reins supreme on the battlefield and when you understand your Point Blank Range, can locate your targets then have the marksmanship skills to hit at those ranges you are an asset.

We reloacted to the range, which was only about 10 minutes away and completed the range setup. Since we are using a quarry it was an unimproved range, but it was actually quite nice. Once we got all situated we conducted are safety & medical briefs and moved to the firing line to practice weapon manipulations. While we had several novice students they paid attention and were quick learners. Part of the “make ready” procedure is to protect your eyes and ears then fully load your pistol followed by carbine. A problem that would plague a few students was the lack of attention to detail with their pistols. Many wouldn’t remember to make ready until well into the afternoon and it wasn’t until the end of the class that it became second nature. While not something you have to perform at every command, once we return from lunch breaks or our initial loads it is something that everyone needs to do that runs with a secondary.

A point I try to make is that we try to run as many evolutions as possible under a “hot” condition. Once we make ready, we try to keep them hot for as long as possible and get folks used to working with loaded weapons. Most didn’t notice it, but a few veteran students were aware of the need to make ready with a loaded weapon. In a class setting it is administrative, but once you fire your first shot any post shooting weapon verification will have to be performed by observing the condition of the chamber by pulling the bolt slightly to the rear. I don’t much mind the magazine method for chamber verification, but during these periods the only way to be sure is to verify yourself.

Oh-no...this is my surprised look

We didn’t have many problems with our equipment early on, most first and second line gear was more than adequate. Some of the veteran students were well versed in their loadouts, which is always good to see. I can’t help but wonder if all the equipment some carry is necessary. We have all been down that road of “what if” and it is a slippery slope particularly when you have to carry it all. I prefer to define the mission, select supporting equipment and then select the load bearing equipment and then be as light as possible. If it is not mission essential or mission critical then don’t carry it. Here in a training class it adds to the fatigue and stress and a lot of guy’s were having some lower back issues being in their vests for as long as they were. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it, but I would be as light as possible given the mission at hand.

Zeroing was our first order of business and within the second volley we already had an optic fall off the rifle. Disappointing, but I’m not surprised to see this from this manufacture. So, for all those wondering it was an EOTech and that was only part of the problem. Another student had an EOTech with the “zombie” reticule. Really, why on earth would you take a company seriously that would actually put a worthless reticule into an expensive and critical piece of gear. It really boggles my mind and is such a waste. I could tell the student was frustrated at times, but he still managed to do well and it was a loaner unit so no real skin off his nose. We had a lot of students who quickly got their rifles zeroed. Most were 4 out of 5 within the second volley and we got everyone by the third. I like to talk about progression so I was thinking we would see a few students who would get 5 out of 5 into the black. As a side note, if we can get at least 4 out of 5 in the black then when shooting at distance the student should be able to get a decent shot group at the 200 yard line. While I’m not a big fan of math, it is pretty easy to see correlations during the zero and hitting at the extended ranges.

We setup for our skills assessment and again we had an outstanding performance from the class that negated us having to cover the preparatory marksmanship skills. Looking back, there were probably 2 or 3 students that could have benefited. Watching the line, I noticed we had a variety of shooting styles, some good and some not so good.

Good aggressive stance. Nice patches!

We came back from lunch and covered the Combat Shooting System and as with the last few classes we have really emphasized the correct biomechanics behind the shooting technique. It is really quite simple, you want to employ large and stronger muscles as a group that will sustain themselves over the long haul and that the help to settle the sight down to minimal movement. This is still a work in progress and very new to many students even veterans, but once they were able to fire the correct muscle groups consistently you could see their shooting improved. There are a lot of techniques that are biomechanically weak and for combat style shooting; you don’t want anything that is weak, no matter the perceived gains. I see many students struggle with these other techniques and it is frustrating for me, you want to smack them on the back of the head at times, but the best you can do is set the example and hold standards and hope they meet them or change their technique in order to meet them.

The class progress really well from there, the one problem it seemed many students had was quitting the fight. This is a bad habit from range training, the drills are mostly choreographed and everyone knows nobody is shooting at them so they fail to apply good mechanics and specifically work their triggers and sights for proper follow through. I’m not a fan of competition grade triggers especially single stages that are ultra lightweight. You are better off with mil-spec hardware in this case. I don’t trust them for starters as we have seen several go tango uniform, but the ultra lightweight leads to trigger slapping, which at close ranges is forgiving, but as you extend the range it becomes very problematic. I much prefer two stage triggers that have a reasonable breaking weight so that students can feel the “sear wall”, they take up the slack right to the sear wall and then a light squeeze breaks the shot. Couple that with their first, best sight picture and you get some amazing shots.

Once we started getting to multi-round drills you could see several students who would either quickly come off the trigger, literally fly off it or not reset until they came off target or would reset at the appropriate time, but not prep the trigger. That is a lot to think about, which is why you have to work with some type of checklist in the beginning so you properly ingrain the correct habits for success.

Pistol transitions

We worked on some weapon manipulations such as pistol transitions, malfunction clearances and combat reloads. There were a few folks who with their second line gear on had a hard time cleanly drawing their pistol. Again, you shouldn’t have to fight your gear, your gear should always fight for you. I see plenty of folks who have no choice in their selection of gear, it is issued and they need to fight through it, but if you have the choice on gear then it is far more important to have the gear setup for optimal fighting conditions. I look at my gear in order of the tactical imperative, I may need medical gear for sure, but the more important piece of gear would be my pistol so I would want access to my pistol then figure out where to put my medical gear. In truth, I don’t have the real estate to fit most medical pouches so I end up spreading it out and breaking down my medical kit in order of tactical importance. The critical items I “need” first, versus “want”.

Most everyone was running a 2 point sling, but we had one single point sling with the bitter end come loose and luckily the student caught it before he slung the rifle. We took the time to cover “deadman” on the bitter end of the sling and once you do this it is pretty much bomb proof as far as coming undone. However, there are some slings that are really slippery, I mean really slippery. Even though they are deadmanned and the bitter end is not coming undone, the tri-glide buckle will still slide and this one slide with very little effort.

There was a lot of difficulty in understanding the importance behind safety manipulation. Most people get it, safety on until target is identified and sights are on, but the tough sale is manipulating the safety in other circumstance. Here we are talking during the combat reload. On a flat range it is hard for some people to understand the complexities of these concepts, maybe because they haven’t been in situations that are very dynamic and fast moving. Ultimately, all techniques need to be performed flawlessly on the move, then flawlessly on the move at night. As soon as we get into those advanced conditions, which represent a high percentage of combat scenarios safety manipulation becomes really important. As you continue to see the big picture and realize you are not training to fight on a square range, but training to fight in the real world then it makes more sense. The other problem I have is we should always push safety, the industry over the years has refined universal safety rules, muzzle discipline, trigger finger discipline and safety manipulation. These are based on a tiered approach so that if one fails, the others don’t to create failsafe systems. I heard another instructor complain when one of his students let loose a round during a reload. The round left the range as the muzzle was pointing in an up direction. He was quick to condemn the muzzle direction, but I don’t feel he adequately addressed the fact the student’s finger was on the trigger and the safety was off, a complete breakdown off all the safety rules. Then there is the issue of what are we really talking about here, seriously. We are talking about engaging the safety during these reloads, an act that should be so automated the student is almost unaware. Then once the reload is completed and positive target identification performed the safety is effortlessly disengaged. So, if this is hard for you to do, then the more important question is why? We have proven that the times are so negligible that when you realize they are all planned events really become a mute point; a planned event, another concept that some folks overlook when forming an opinion. In a planned event the student is aware of the act prior and is able to mentally and sometimes physically rehearse. An unplanned act is one were there is no immediate advanced notice and the act occurs with no warning where the student must instantaneously recognize and react. Once the correct technique is loaded into the software system and practiced routinely the unplanned act happens with little fan fare.

We kicked off with TD2 and zeroing both our RDS and iron sights. I usually spend a little time talking about same plane and sticking with the same manufacture for both front and rear. Also, remember to ensure the iron sights are correctly installed in the furthest rails slots forward and aft respectively. Don’t forget to use some form of thread locker and a witness mark is a good idea. The whole deal with same plane should be a no brainer; there is no reason for manufactures of aftermarket foldable sights to not make the rear sight with same plane apertures. With the use of same plane, the student can zero with the small and deploy the large for combat engagements. I also disagree with the manufactures who make as the default aperture the small. For those close range engagements you will not have the time to switch to the large and the small at close range is a detriment.

Many of the students were veterans of other training classes and lots of them had a great mindset regarding post shooting. Keep your head on a swivel and ammo management. It’s nice to see folks on their own taking care of these issues and most have figured out their own way to do it. Again, a lot of things work fine on the square range, but once we start moving it’s a different story. I encourage folks to really look at that aspect, not just shooting on the move, but all the other components to gunfighting. That’s the pinnacle of training, that’s where you earn your money. If you can’t replicate it at night on the move and even wearing NOD’s then how valuable is the technique really.

We worked on some diagnostic drills and most everyone that had problems were either broken down into lingering on the sights instead of breaking the shot at the first, best sight picture and then slapping the trigger. A common mistake folks make is not having a fixed focus on the target, a specific point on the target you are aiming to hit. From there, you drive the gun to that point. This will help reduce the imperfections of your mount as well as decrease the time it takes to make micro alignments to your sights. Once the sight settles on the target, the opportunity to squeeze the prepped trigger is then. If you wait, to try and perfect the sights, it will only force you to perform poor trigger control. It is a big leap of faith to go down this path and it differs from conventional wisdom regarding sights, but it works and works really well.

Closing with the bad guy; LOMF!

We progressed to one of my favorite drills and that is shooting on the move. Again, there is so much crap out there regarding this skill. Don’t make it any more complicated than it already is, keep the movement simple and just move. Focus on stability and then redirect all your attention to the first, best sight picture. As you move the window of opportunity will quickly fade so this drill will actually force you to use your FBSP. Does your sight move when you move, of course, that is something you just have to accept. You could try to reduce your speed or other techniques, but then is that realistic? Will you be able to replicate that under combat conditions? I have my doubts and much prefer to employ the FBSP. It all comes together during movement drills, trust your technique and instincts and you get the hits.

We had several students who did great on the time drills, they are not easy to try and make the times and continue to produce 100% accurate hits, but we have folks do it from time to time. I thought for sure we were going to have a repeat student make it and on the last yard line it was as if he was moving in slow motion, he literally was talking himself through something that his body knows how to do. I put a lot of effort in self talk in the beginning or when learning a new skill, but at some point you just have to shut off the internal dialogue and just do it. We did something to prove this point during the combat reloads where we had some of the students perform the action of the reload with their eyes closed then reopened them for the shooting. Many stumbled at first, but without the aide of their eyes some were able to just let their body’s do what it has been doing for a while and the reloads began to smooth themselves out until most were doing an awesome job.

Going prone in the MNQ

We got setup for our Modified Navy Qualification and I was very happy to know that we had 2 Marksmen in the class. That means, they had previously qualified and were awarded their Marksmanship patch. One opted to let it ride, what that means is he wanted to better his ranking and we totally encourage it and I love to see guys walk up and hand me their patch.  I hold it while they shoot the drill, if they better it, I give them their new one, if the score the same they get their original back and if they fail to qualify I keep it. Unfortunately, our student failed to qualify. He shot a great score on the first run and then totally screwed the pouch by putting a shot in the white and disqualifying. Such is life, I have his patch on my desk as I have no doubt he will come back next year and crush the drill. The other Marksman opted to hold onto to his patch and just shot the drill for fun, nothing wrong with that either.

I have noticed a pattern recently that I wanted to talk about real quick. In our last 6 open enrollment classes we have had at least one women if not a couple in our classes. I am so excited to see more women attending classes and doing very well. For those of you who are undecided I would encourage you to check out an article in the Crossfit Journal where a complete novice went through a Level 1 pistol class. The article is a great read and I think transcends genders, but it also is a great inspiration for those who are still on the fence. If you know of someone who is itching to get involved in the sport or art then I would highly recommend you encourage them to read the article. Here is a link and feel free to pass it around. I am hoping to see more females in our future classes and with the momentum we generated will continue through the rest of the year.

Mastering the Art of Selfdefense; A Beginner’s Guide to Pistol Combatives

Overall the class was a huge success and we look forward to future programs. Please do not hesitate to contact us for clarification on any points or comments.

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