Zeroing the rifles

Trident Concepts conducted their 3-day Combative Carbine, Level Two at the Gainesville Target Range in Gainesville, FL recently. We have been to this facility multiple times and the quality of attending students continues to get better with each class. It is great to see a facility open to the public doing well.

While late September the weather was still a factor, the high humidity meant we would be taking more breaks in the shade. We had some nice cloud cover and a slight breeze from time to time, but not enough to keep our usual pace. We made up for it in other ways though so it all worked out. I have no idea how I did it, but I ended up tweaking my knee literally as I stepped out of the car. It boggles my mind what I actually did, but lack of range of motion and swelling all meant I took it serious. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ice it during the day so I just had to gut it out. We had another injury in the class when a few days before the class a student broke his toe badly. It ended up requiring some stiches to show you how bad, but the student gutted through the whole class and shot incredibly well, in fact he was very consistent and scored high on all graded evolutions.

Hot & Humid challenged everyone

This class was plagued with an above average number of equipment issues despite some preplanning and preparation. Right away when we started our first zero on training day one we discovered that more than half the class had optic mounts that were loose in the rail slots. Now, before folks make any smart aleck remarks, most had watched our YouTube video on sight/mount installation and followed it to the letter. It wasn’t until after the first volley that I discovered that the majority were loose. When I say loose, I mean they were not properly tensioned during installation so that the moved back and forth within the rail slot. They were not loose to the point they were falling off.

Now, some didn’t follow our advise on the location of the optic/mount combination and had them installed further back than recommended. Since most had to be tightened we took the time to reinstall them in a better location closer to the forward position of the upper receiver. We didn’t have any other problems regarding the RDS, but we did see some similar problems with the BUIS. A few were not installed in the correct rail slots so we went ahead and moved them to the correct positions. The only problem was I failed to resupply my vial of Loctite from the last class so they will all have to take the time to apply some thread locker to ensure the screws don’t back themselves out, which is common.

Speaking of BUIS we had one rear sight that had a “diamond” shaped rear aperture. Maybe I’ve been shooting traditional “ghost ring” type sights so long that this shape just goes against the grain for me. The student also felt the same way and opted to replace them with a more traditional ghost ring rear aperture. A pet peeve of mine is sight manufactures that don’t indicate the direction for shifting bullet impact, some manufactures will inscribe both front and rear sight, and some do rear sight only. While I can explain to the student the difference between direct and indirect relationship of the front and rear sight that information will more than likely not be retained so the student is left with either referencing the manual if they have it, looking online or just winging it through trial and error. Really, you would think we were beyond this with modern manufacturing processes.

Student loaned TRICON M6 in action

One of the students had requested to try out one of our TRICON rifles and while I I’m happy to loan them out when we can it is a logistical endeavor. The rifle ran fine and is in excellent condition for the high round count, but the student started having feeding problems. I paid more attention to the types of feeding problems and after observing a few of the stoppages in real time it appeared the culprit were the magazines. The student had previously purchased a non-M4/AR type weapon that could be feed through standard issued aluminum magazines of which several were included from the manufacture. I have had problems in the past when fired through M4/AR style weapons so as soon as we replaced them with MagPul’s PMAG’s the problem disappeared and the student was very happy from there.

At the end of TD1 we had one student’s rifle whose castle nut had come loose. The student recently had the rifle returned from getting it coated with a few upgrades, of which was the installation of a new end plate. Apparently the castle nut was not re-staked after installation and had come loose. I use to have a different end plate for the different sling I ran at the time, but I have moved away from those modifications seeing that the newer 2-point slings are more than adequate. While the student was able to reinstall the end plate with some thread locker re-staking will have to wait until after the class.

One student in class continued to have case ejecting issues. The rifle, magazines and ammunition were all from quality manufactures so the problem would be more complex. I ended up giving him my spare extra-power action spring and the problem went away…temporarily. By TD3 the problem had returned. We had discussed a few options, one of which was returning the rifle to the manufacture for repair. While under a year old, the student has a high round count, but I’m sure the manufacture would be more than accommodating. Of course, that didn’t help the immediate issue of continued problems so a fellow student loaned him a complete bolt. This time the problem was resolved for the rest of the class. I had suggested that a diagnostic approach towards remedying the issue wasn’t a bad idea and good feedback for the manufacture, but it also was a reminder that spare parts and springs should be part of every serious shooter’s range bag. On top of keeping an accurate round count in order to perform periodic maintenance and small part replacement.

One student had a fairly new rifle from a manufacture that is not as well known for making M4/AR style rifles. It had a factory installed free float tube from another well-known manufacture. The fore-end had come loose on TD1, but it was modest, which of course would only get worse to the point that by the time we started TD2 it needed to be tightened. The act of tightening the fore-end was nothing short of brain surgery and time consuming. It took almost an hour to get it tight again and then it was loose again by the end of the day. On TD3 the student opted to keep shooting, which is not recommended, but I can understand his frustration. I was somewhat shocked to see how loose it was, but how it kept functioning so that was a good thing at least.

The last observation was a rifle had been converted with a left hand only safety lever. I definitely don’t recommend this option or even the addition of ambidextrous controls. Now, that is easy for me to say as a right-hander, but we have enough staff members who are lefties and been teaching folks to shoot off the left side both as their primary and as a contingency. Again, I know it is easy for me to say this, but I still feel it is better to learn the weapon platform as is, the techniques are more than manageable with practice. We had a higher than normal class of lefties so it was good to see them adapting to the thought process.

Every now and then we see some sort of muzzle brake, certain states that is all gun owners can have and others choose to install them. I am against them big time. My good friend and fellow trainer Paul Howe recently had a discussion between a match mindset and a combat mindset and I couldn’t agree more with his take on the subject. The only perceived advantage the muzzle brakes offer is less climb during recoil. It’s important to realize that the rifle still recoils or it still moves. It doesn’t lie motionless and more importantly the student fails to grasp the concept of a sturdy and solid mount. Instead they end up “holding” the gun up instead of applying solid technique to maintain the gun on target. The problem comes when the student realizes that the time he is trying to break the shot has no bearing on the device after a shot and even then the student still has to allow the sight to settle before the shot. Since many of these owners typically work at close ranges only they don’t see the big picture and the difficulty of proper muscle tension to stabilize the platform long enough to make first round lethal hits. I’m against taking a rifle and pretending it is a sub-gun, it’s not first off. This mindset erodes the rifleman culture and capabilities. I’m seeing this first hand during our Mid Range Marksmanship classes where “sub-gun” student’s technique makes it very difficult to hit targets at the extended ranges. Usually I will have someone comment how they will never have to take a shot at those ranges…whatever. That is someone who either hasn’t had to shoot people at those ranges or really doesn’t have the experience. It is not about whether you can justify the act, it boils down to a simple question and that is “can” you make that shot. The skill required is the key not the scenario.

Student employing good bio-mechanics

In this class we went deeper into the biomechanics of proper technique. Breaking things down to the recruitment of certain muscle groups, the firing of those muscle groups to create the solid platform we are looking for. Yes, it we are talking about using muscle, as odd as that sounds it is often something that is not discussed, which I find odd. Combat is a physical act and it is no secret that the more physically fit you are, the better prepared you will be. We have seen this for years in our classes. They are physically demanding sure, but they are also mentally demanding. You have to use your brain to properly train, most don’t have the skills to just set the autopilot and relax. The mental aptitude is obviously tied a lot of things you may not be able to control, but something you can control is your level of fitness. It simply allows you to weather the storm and stay focused longer. I am fortunate that I get to work with some of the fittest people on the planet and it’s pretty obvious. I’ve also had several students who after a class realize how out of shape they are and setout to get in shape. I’m always impressed as they come back hard as nails and their learning curve is so much better.

So, what am I saying, first off you don’t have to fit to come to any of our classes. Sure, it is preferred, but not required. I’m just saying that there is a correlation to those who are fitter, they have the physical ability obviously, but that physical ability also helps them mentally and that is the real benefit in our classes. Someone with that aptitude usually has higher body awareness, so when I’m describing something like firing your shooting muscles they can actually do it, whether they are fully defined or developed.

Solid kneeling position during MNQ

The class started out with really high scores on our skills assessment so we skipped the preparatory marksmanship drills and went right into the basic marksmanship drills. Most would develop really good skills, but the most common mistake we saw in the class, particularly during graded evolutions was trigger slapping. You can get away with this up close and not be too bad off, but as soon as you start to extend the ranges the problems persists and it is really difficult to root out. One student a relatively new student showed the most consistent trigger management. We talk about how there is a lot that goes into trigger management, but one thing this student did extremely well was that right after resetting the trigger he would immediately take out the slack and be resting on what I call the “sear wall”. From there, slight pressure drops the hammer. It was drilled into him early and he really did make big improvements. I see so many students who quite fighting by immediately flying off the trigger after the last shot from the course of fire. While it may seem insignificant, it really is a big deal. Work hard to stage the trigger for follow up shots even at the end of a drill.

We started off TD2 with some more zeroing and diagnostic drills and when students concentrated we saw some very good performance. A comment one student made was he was thinking about so many things at once it was hard to not make a mistake. I totally know what this guy is talking about, which is why we try to create mini-checklists for combat marksmanship. You go through your checklist for your fighting stance, for your marksmanship points and when they are edited in chronological order they tend to be preformed in chronological order. We start all of classes with isolation drills for this reason so students can concentrate on one thing at a time then bit by bit start putting the points of performance together until they form a complex array of semi-simultaneous movements.

One thing we don’t talk too much about is breathing and in this class I found that most were doing a good job on the subject. However, occasionally a few would hold their breaths as a result of lingering on their sights too long. A common mistake, if you are going to linger you need to be taking skip breaths or mini exhalations and inhalations. Keep O2 coming into the body for optimal performance no matter what. It’s very similar to weight training you need to breathe to keep your muscles well oxygenated for optimal performance. Now, when you breathe is a matter of personal choice, but once I lock in or my butt stock settles into the shoulder pocket, I will take a small in and out breathe. This gives me all I need for a given shot and if it is a high round drill I will take breathes in between. Now, that is much tougher to do, but with practice it gets easier.

When we got to the movement drills we saw a lot of good applications of the first, best sight picture, but I also saw one student who literally would fire each time he would plant his foot while moving forward. You cannot time your shots to your body’s movement. You have to break the shot when the sights are there. The drills force you to trust your first, best sight picture and break it at that moment. Don’t linger or loiter on your sight, as soon as it is there good squeeze to your trigger. He kept over penetrating past the limit of advance and so once I paid more attention you could see how he would time it almost like a dance. Once I brought it to his attention he worked hard to avoid it, but it will take some practice.

We worked some weak side drills and most everyone did a really good job, the lefties had a pretty easy time except for the one who had a lefty only safety lever. Not a good idea and I think the point was understood after the drill. I had a question during the drill about how to transfer the rifle over and I didn’t give it a good enough response on the line because we were in the middle of the drill so I will try here. We teach to transfer the weapon to your weak side by pushing out and sliding over to the weak side shoulder pocket. Once there, we teach you to exchange your grip at the muzzle end and not the trigger end. The big reason is when attempting to transfer over using this technique you get a much better mount using your strong hand, it moves much smoother and more precise. Then we want to transfer the grip away from the trigger, first we have more control of the weight of the weapon at the fore-end and second we don’t want to accidently reach in and grab a handful of trigger during the exchange.

Solid combat reload...

We worked some more school drills then we started the Modified Navy Qualification and I was very happy at this point. Everyone did a great job on their first exposure, we had 3 students qualify on the first run and during the second run we had one qualify. It was down to the millisecond, but he got it and I was very happy. I really didn’t see any major issues during the runs, most would shoot a bit slower than usual, but not that big a deal as long as your accuracy is good. Where it becomes a problem is when you try to be too perfect and end up lingering then slapping the trigger. That really cost a few folks, but I’m confident once they got it down they will score much higher.

Overall, I had a great time this go around. I wasn’t able to make the class dinner unfortunately. On TD1 I tweaked my knee, don’t ask me how as I have no idea and needed to ice it after class. On TD2 we all went home to clean up and then meet at the restaurant. I get back to my hotel and wouldn’t you know it, the fire alarms are going off and everyone is evacuating. Seriously… As it turns out someone over cooked some popcorn in a microwave and set off everything, but by the time the firemen cleared the building to go back in it had been a while and my knee was killing me. I finally got it iced, but missed the dinner, sorry guys.

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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