Trident Concepts, LLC conducted their three-day combative pistol level II class at the Gainesville Target Range recently. This is our third year going to this range facility and I really enjoy each class. GTR is a great facility for folks to learn more about weapon craft as well as supporting through carrying top-of-the-line equipment and excellent range facilities. Folks in the area really are lucky to have this facility and due to some new recent construction it looks as though they are certainly there for the long haul. I will look forward to returning later this fall for rifle class, so keep your eyes open for that.
The weather would certainly be a factor as the forecast was indicating three days of thunderstorms and lightning. It’s always fun and games to play in the rain, but lighting adds a degree of risk that’s just not worth taking. I have been using the WeatherBug app for the iPhone, which has a lightning meter, and as a rule of thumb any lightning within 10 miles is a “no go” for training. We wait at least 10 minutes once lightning has moved outside of a 10-mile radius before we even consider heading out to train and even then we are still very cautious. The rain and wind are always challenging to work with and the students did a great job keeping the morale up even though was a pain in the ass. By the afternoon of Day three the clouds would clear the sun would shine and it was a beautiful day to finish up our class.
We saw variety of equipment in this class, several Glocks as well as a few Smith & Wesson M&P’s, an old warhorse 1911 and a couple of HK USP Tactical. One of the Glock was equipped with a beaver tail type add-on. I am not a fan of this item at all. Most shooters try to achieve an overly high grip on the pistol creating an odd angle for their trigger finger. More importantly it is very difficult to get the proper placement of the trigger finger to apply leverage. Another major issue is the angle of the grip is such that the trigger finger is in contact with the frame thereby disrupting the sites during trigger movement. The added size also makes it thicker and more difficult to actually grip rather than easier to grip. The bottom line; not worth the money.
The shooters that were using the HK pistols found them to be very difficult. One shooter was carrying the pistol in the double action mode with the safety off and found the double action trigger pull to be incredibly challenging. When asked why he elected to carry double action versus single action, safety on the response was the holster would deactivate the safety upon insertion. Good call on making the choice not to select single action, safety on, but it really made it difficult for him. On day two he was able to remold the holster to accommodate the pistol single action safety on and not deactivate the safety. His quality of life shot up big time and his marksmanship followed. The other shooter was using the compact version, which while technically a staggered column magazine still only holds eight rounds and he found it being difficult to keep up with the volume of fire. On day two he opted to go with the full size USP, but the holster configuration would not accommodate smooth draw strokes or reholstering due to the wet weather. It became increasingly frustrating for him and I recommended that he return to the compact, lesser magazine capacity. While it’s hard to argue with the engineering, these pistols certainly force the shooters to work hard.
We also saw several fiber optic style front sites and the shooters would learn the difficulties of truly being accurate with these sites. The fiber-optic tubes certainly make identifying the dot but due to their brightness it makes it extremely difficult to see the top of the front sight. So while the shooter believes his accuracy is on par, any precise shots are always suspect. Many of the shooters opted to blacking out the visible portion of the fiber-optic tube thereby diminishing it and allowing a more clear focus on the top of the front sight for precision and still provided enough illumination to pick up the red fiber optic tube for faster site acquisition. Not a bad compromise but still not a perfect solution.
Another problem we ran into were aftermarket trigger systems that were extremely light. Many of these are billed as competition style triggers, which are finding their way into the combat arena. What many of the shooters realized is these triggers actually produced severe trigger slapping/jerking movements rather than smooth movement. I asked one of the shooters to replace the trigger with a stock trigger and while it showed marginal improvement, it still was difficult to deal with all the training scars from all of the live fire/dry fire practice the shooter had invested in that piece of equipment. I much prefer a quasi-two-stage style trigger. The shooter moves quickly to take up the slack then pauses at the sear wall to break the shot. While it may seem time-consuming, it allows the shooter to exercise true marksmanship through improved trigger management. Most shooters pull the trigger in a single motion very rarely without disturbing the sites. We find a two-step process towards trigger management to be highly successful and more reliable under stress thereby increasing one’s hit potential.
One of the new site systems that we’ve seen several classes now is the Trijicon HD site system. I’m glad the site systems are gaining in popularity as I feel they offer a good compromise of high visibility along with precision and I will look forward to installing a few on some of our duty pistols not currently equipped with a mini red dot.
Many students found the range challenging with regards to their wardrobes and gun belts. A new trend of using metal buckles for gun belts placed through belt loops has proven to be quite complicated when donning and doffing wet weather. Part of our inclement weather briefing is that we do not allow any shooters to draw from concealment. The biggest reason is as the increment weather starts to take effect the shooter can become hypothermic or near hypothermic; situational awareness as well as fine motor skills are severely degraded. On top of that many of the wet weather gear commonly found has several toggles and pull tabs that have a nasty tendency of finding their way into the holster while the shooter is attempting to reupholster their weapon. I had a close friend who recently found out how easy those toggles can get into the trigger guards and how little pressure is required on striker fired weapons to discharge them. So during the brief we remind shooters they are not to draw from concealment, keep their hands as dry and warm as possible, stay mentally alert more so than they normally would and be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of hypothermia. If the shooter feels as though they’re starting to enter the early stages of hypothermia, we want them to step off the line dry off and warm-up; if they failed to do that and I believe that they’ve entered the early stages of hypothermia then I will force them to take the break and generally for the rest of the day. I have no problems training in inclement weather, it’s the reality that we live in, but we have to be smart about how we do it. Several of the gun belts made it very difficult for the shooters to transition between donning and doffing their jackets. It was rather frustrating while we waited for them and I could tell it was frustrating for them as well. I’m not saying these are not good pieces of equipment, but they certainly have pitfalls that many shooters are not aware of and quite frankly I don’t see nearly the value that so many others claim to see.
We started the morning out reviewing safe gun handling skills. Typically we see a lot of what I would consider to be unsafe practices many of which stem from either ignorance or being unaware. Any type of action that has you placing your hand in front of the ejection port should be strongly discouraged. I see this a lot in classes and its closely followed by those that tried to catch the round as its being ejected. The biggest problem that I have with that is most sucks at multitasking. So trying to one; eject a round; lock the slide to the rear and three visually clear the weapon are all performed sub optimally. I would much prefer the student’s start by ejecting the round, then locking the slide to the rear, and finally inspecting the weapon to ensure it is clear. The alternative is an inadvertent primary strike from the ejector that severely damages your hand possibly to the point of losing digits. It’s just not worth it. Never mind that action placing your hand in front of the ejection port have absolutely no tactical significance whatsoever, why would you even load them into your programming?
We went ahead and got the skills assessment out of the way and for the most part the class did a good job, I felt it was still valuable to go through preparatory marksmanship drills followed by basic marksmanship drills. An observation that I made was how so many of the students were using poor posture and body mechanics. While not the best venue to try and describe correct posture, your mom probably said it best by standing up straight and pulling your shoulders back. Fix that and a lot of your problems will slowly fade away. As we moved into basic marksmanship drills I found it very frustrating with the students who broke down their technique so quickly failing to do any proper follow-through. This would be a major problem for many students in the class. I can’t emphasize the importance of completing an entire cycle or what we like to call firing solution. The biggest mistake that folks make is forgetting what they’re trying to do, learn good combat marksmanship skills. These skills will be performed under high stress conditions and need to be very reliable. I find many of the other takes techniques out there really failing under those conditions.
I mentioned earlier some of the aftermarket triggers that we saw, most of these I feel are poor choices for duty/carry weapons. I do like a nice two-stage feel to my triggers but I don’t want something that doesn’t allow me to really work the trigger. What I mean by that is using a two-step process, first step is to touch and take up the slack. Second step is once you’re on the sear wall to smoothly break the shot. This two-step process is extremely successful as well as being very reliable under stress. Once habituated to the point it becomes reflexive, the two-step trigger management looks virtually like a single step. However, failure to start out with a two-step process in the beginning will only continue to reinforce bad habits, it is very easy to practice the wrong thing really well.
Things would progress to ready position drills and several of the students would start to make improvements with posture. The key here is concentration, you have to stay focused on the very basics. These have to be so well forged that they become reflexive. A big problem is students that want to fast-forward to the end game expecting to develop solid fundamentals on the way. There are no shortcuts with regards to combat marksmanship, simply commitment, focus and discipline.
Another problem that we would see with several students was when we moved to multi-round drills. Again, a common problem we see from class to class is students failing to grasp the firing cycle. It’s a cycle that needs to be completed from start to finish. The biggest problem that we see is students that get so excited about the two round drill that they fail to think about the possibility of having to fire a third round. They already are breaking the gun down and not even realizing that that’s affecting their second shot. We use a lot of references to other industries from driving to fitness. A good way to look at the firing cycle is making a simple turn in a vehicle. At some point once you’ve completed the turn you will need to correct the steering wheel for the new direction of travel. Folks that fail to follow through are failing to correct the steering wheel to the new direction of travel. What’s funny is when you’re driving it seems so obvious to have to do this, but when were shooting so many students completely ignore the necessity of correcting the steering wheel to the new direction of travel and in this case that implies setting up for third shot or however many follow up shots needed.
Once we started working from a holster the weather was starting to turn against us. It would affect the rest of the day with regards in donning wet weather gear. Most of the holsters we had were of the kydex type. We only had one leather holster on the firing line. Once the rain started to come down that leather holster became increasingly difficult to both draw and re-holster pistol. The quality of the holster could’ve had something to do with that, but is something that you have in my mind that leather is somewhat pliable and doesn’t always do well in extreme environmental temperature shifts. Once a quality leather holster is broken in you shouldn’t have to worry about this too much. I was breaking in one of my new holsters designed to accommodate the mini red dots from holster maker John Ralston at Five Shot Leather. John follows in the footsteps of the late great holster-maker Loul Alessi. His leather holsters aren’t very well-crafted and very user-friendly. Because we had to modify existing holster designs to accommodate the mini red dots he was extremely receptive to minor changes. By the end of the class, my holster would be almost completely broken in. We remind students that they are not under any time constraints to re-holster, there is no rush, no hurry and we especially do not want to see students throwing the pistol into the holster. With the inclement weather and the addition of extra clothing it becomes a safety concern about loose items being inserted into the holster while you’re trying to re-holster potentially discharging the weapon.
The last drill the day would be to run some 25-yard diagnostics. Most of the shooting errors that I saw during the day had to do with trigger management. Once we got into the diagnostics we started to zero in on specifically what type of trigger issues we were looking at. The most common were trigger jerking and trigger slapping. One student was having more difficulty with the trigger slapping simply because the trigger didn’t give him much leeway. So he technically didn’t know where the trigger would break the shot. There should be such a level of intimacy with the trigger that you can squeeze the trigger right up to the seer wall. From there just a minimal amount of pressure will allow for the most accurate shots. Several of the students from a knowledge base understood their shooting errors, but still had a great difficulty making the transition towards changing. It’s hard to blame the students when they have so many repetitions of a suboptimal technique and you have to be realistic that what we can accomplish in a three-day class. This diagnostic evolution would really focus on trigger finger isolation. Many students inadvertently place their finger at an angle that has the digit applying pressure to the frame during the triggers movement. This will have an adverse effect on moving the sites prior to the discharge. So when we talk about isolation the trigger finger should have absolutely no contact with any part of the firearm except for the face of the trigger. The tactical imperative here is on shot accuracy. Some instructors will encourage the student to use a more aggressive grip for better recoil at the risk of sacrificing their marksmanship. I strongly favor marksmanship as the shooter continues to develop his skill sets recoil management will be something that improves.
We would get to some of the higher round count drills in the morning as well as providing instruction on various ammunition management techniques. Here is the opportunity to explain what the tactical imperative is all about. Is difficult if not impossible to actually perform two tasks simultaneously. So at a certain point the student needs to identify which is the most important task. He has to do this with an understanding that both tasks are important but that he can only perform one, which one is it? The essence of this understanding makes up the philosophy behind the tactical imperative. When folks can understand that, their decision-making process is greatly improved.
One of the drills that we didn’t get accomplished on day one was the time drills. So in the morning we went ahead and knocked out them out. I certainly believe there is a balance between accuracy and speed but in the beginning accuracy has to be the most important. With time and good mechanics speed will come. The old saying that speed is a byproduct of good technique is absolutely true. At a certain point it’s not about being fast as much as being efficient, to have minimal static or unnecessary movement. Get rid of all that and what you will be left with is an efficient technique. Then efficiency will equal speed.
Another drill that we like to do forces the students outside of their comfort zone. They have to slowly extend the weapon to the target while acquiring the sites. We reference this is driving the gun. Once the site settles on target and utilizing a two-step trigger movement the shot should break. If the student is lingering in an attempt to try and perfect their site picture it will ultimately end in a missed shot. The irony of accuracy is there is a degree of imperfection that is necessary. Under stressful conditions there will be less time to try and perfect the mechanics. Once the student can embrace this philosophy they can start to work at more real conditions.
There were several other drills that would continue to reinforce the forging process, but we again were fighting the weather. The training day went longer than normal but we still were able to accomplish a lot. We also opted to do our class dinner at a local eatery the evening of day to. Always nice to actually sit down in a more social setting to mingle and talk and otherwise enjoy each other’s company.
Training Day three would start with more diagnostics and we really start to see several students put is all altogether. The missing peace at this point was consistency. Many of the students were able to get it right occasionally but not with enough consistency for it to begin to really replace their old habits. We would introduce strong hand only at this point and so many of the students were able to reap huge benefits in their overall technique. I love doing strong and only drills not just because the likelihood of being injured but because it is a great diagnostic tool as well. Again this concept is difficult to explain in this context but suffice it to say that the students grip integrity really comes into question when were doing strong and only. The student needs to have both power as well as trigger finger isolation in order to be successful. Many of the light bulb moments typically happen at this point and I’ve given serious consideration to introducing strong hand only much earlier in the class but ultimately I feel it’s best to wait until the latter part to really see the full benefits.
We would also do several drills throughout the day that would have dummy rounds randomly loaded into magazines. Several students would continue to see poor trigger management but, the good news was that they were able to slowly become self-aware. There was one student, which upon experiencing the dummy round would have significant muzzle dip. I could be across the range working with another student and know it from his reaction. It will take time and dedication to truly eradicate bad habits such as trigger slapping and trigger jerking and I think he got a taste of that during the class.
We reconfigured the range to conduct our designated marksman drills which for the pistol means shooting and modified El Presidente. For a lot of students this was the first time and the point of the drill is again to focus on accuracy. I was very happy that in this class we had one student who qualified for their marksmanship badge. Not only did he qualify but also he qualified as a sharpshooter, which is the second-highest ranking. I’m always glad to recognize outstanding performance and in this case the students was well deserving. His consistently performed well throughout the class and it culminated with his marksmanship badge.
We finish the school drill with a head-to-head competition on steel plates. Is always fun to add a little bit of competition between the students. You just never know who’s going to step up and perform.
After the competition we set up for the test. The class as a whole did very good with many students improving in their scores, but we still had a few students who failed to qualify. On day one I remind everybody that from this point forward you are under constant evaluation. You should assume that every round fired is a graded round, so that the emphasis behind the training becomes one of accountability. Being held accountable for your performance or lack thereof. In this case it equates to pass or fail.
After the test, we transitioned into range cleanup, then we started our debrief. There were several lessons learned that again are repeated from class to class most of them having to do with trigger management and grip integrity. After we secured, and alumni student wanted to try and requalify for his designed marksman badge. The last class he had achieved the ranking of marksman, so he was attempting to improve his ranking. I’m happy to say that we are seeing more and more students who are stepping up to the plate and improving the rankings. In this case the students move from a sharpshooter is very good score. I wouldn’t be surprised if his next go-round he tries to requalify and actually scores at the expert level.
Overall the class was a huge success and we look forward to future programs. I’m already looking forward to heading back in the fall to conduct one of our level II rifle classes. Please do not hesitate to contact us for clarification on any points or comments.