The Irony of Slow is Smooth

It seems in today’s world the term “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” will get you labeled as someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about or my favorite, “putting out dated information”. I generally avoid the subject, not because I agree with those who are opposed to this idea. I avoid it because the conversation requires a higher understanding of the idea in the first place.

An Origin Story

A good place to start is where did this phrase come from, where did it originate? The credit gets tossed around a lot, but it originated from the special operations community. The wet side, a long time ago. Those who have an opposing view don’t know the origin or the history. What is troublesome when you don’t know the history is how it was originally intended and applied. This concepts has far reaching applications, not just shooting. In the shooting world, it is typically applied from a single plane. There is either a lack of ability or experience to see it from multiple planes. It is not just a mistake thinking it is strictly one dimensional, it’s counterproductive.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

When moving at full speed, the top of the food chain make their actions look fluid and automatic. Mind you, I’m not just talking about shooting. If we were to shift focus to assaults, a chaotic and complex operation you might develop a deeper understanding and appreciation. One will see this carefully orchestrated activity be executed with incredible results in some of the most dangerous situations imaginable. There has been an extensive train up to allow for the chaos in the most efficient manner possible. We did not arrive at this ability simply by ignoring decades of development in the training. There is a meticulously executed training plan to build up to the ability to not only run at full speed, but make critical decisions in compressed time periods under enormous stress. The bigger picture.

Outrunning Your Headlights

CQB Shoothouse
The Proving Grounds

How does one accomplish this task? It is simple, but not easy. First, it doesn’t happen overnight. For these skills to be truly developed to an automated nature it takes time and making a lot of mistakes. When I was tasked to deliver this training I used simple ways to determine if the individual was outrunning their headlights. During their run, there were simple problems, almost too simple, where if the assaulter was moving beyond their capabilities would make a mistake. When debriefed and queried why they made the mistake most of the time it had to do with not “seeing” the problem. I cannot tell you how many times I would have to tell someone to slow down to avoid making the same mistakes again. To remind them making a mistake at this level is unacceptable, but more importantly avoidable. The mistakes were avoidable if, and this was a big if, they could see the correct series of actions and decisions before required to execute said actions or decisions. Those who made the most mistakes and repeated mistakes were easy to spot. They were moving way faster than they could prosecute the available information.

A Linear Progression Approach

The term, “crawl, walk then run” was often used in conjunction with “slow is smooth”. The assaulters needed to start off slow, like at a literal crawl pace in order to learn the techniques. When they could slow down and see their decisions being made in real time, learning was much easier. It was those who insisted on going faster their skill level that tripped over themselves, at times literally. So, how does this apply to the shooting world. Before you can be expected to execute any action or activity, it must first be flawlessly developed. The only way to accomplish this task is by slowing down so the end user can see the action required, to the level of precision needed to complete the task. Before you can expect to have a one second drawstroke, you must first understand and be able to apply the fundamentals of the drawstroke. You developed this skill by thinking your way through each step so you can apply the required level of precision to your movements.

Master the Fundamentals

I was asked a long time ago how to develop speed in shooting. My answer to this day remains the same. You minimize the amount of movement necessary, then perform said minimal movement precisely enough for the task at hand. You want to shoot faster, then master the fundamentals. The absolute minimal amount of movement necessary. When we look at shooters technique at the granular level it is often covered in dirt. It is not clean. All that dirt prevents you from moving as precisely as you can or as necessary as the shot requires. This to me epitomizes the notion of “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. Because when trained properly, the thousands of work hours allows the observer a glimpse into the closest thing to perfection we can possibly attain.

The Forging Process

Flawless execution

There will remain flaws in our techniques. These flaws exist because for some reason we prioritized something else in the required action and performed them less precise than what the situation dictated. I preach the slow is smooth mantra anytime we are teaching assaults or tactics. But I also preach it when we are teaching shooting. It comes out of my mouth about a 100 different ways in class. Most of the time in the form of a question. Why is this shot not where you were aiming? I’m looking to see what the student can recall. What did they feel, and see at the moment the shot was fired. Most of the time they cannot recall. They cannot recall because they were moving faster than their capabilities allowed. When the student can slow their movements down it allows them to perfect their technique. This smoothing out of their technique then allows them to incrementally accelerate simply by being more efficient. They accelerate to the point of failure. When they can recognize this failure point they truly have arrived as a competent gunman.

Where Does the Smooth Come From

The standing order I give all students is only shoot as fast as they can guarantee the required hits. Those that have been exposed to the slow is smooth mantra have a higher success rate than those who have not. Starting slower gets you to your goal faster. You ingrain the proper neural pathways and therefore it helps to accelerate the learning process. When you slow down you can start to internalize the tacit knowledge. This knowledge is difficult to express or verbalize. It is more like intuition that is developed with experience and this is where the smooth comes from.

It’s About Making Fewer Mistakes

At some point we do want to be going fast, but fast without the proper building blocks is a sham. Anyone who tries to tell you anything different is suspect at best. When you begin to perform at the top levels and are producing excellent results, it is because you have followed a simple formula. You developed your technique or the mechanics to almost a flawless level. It took you slowing down to accomplish this task. Then you applied your technique over and over building competency through consistency. It is as this point you become efficient or smooth. Then you start to see your movement speed performed with fewer and fewer errors or overall time. The byproduct is you are faster. Not because you are moving faster, of course that is a byproduct. You are faster because you are making fewer mistakes at the granular level and producing results.

When I ask people if their goal is to perform whatever their skill to the subconscious competent level they invariably answer of course. When I ask them how they intend on getting there I get a response that reminds me of banging your head into the wall. The fastest way to see progress is by understanding there is a process; technique (slow), consistency (smooth) and then intensity (fast). When you come to this understanding, you improvements mean more and you start to understand what it means to festina lente.

Preparing For a Concealed Carry Class

Holsters

Whether new to training or a veteran to the discipline, there are a few simple things to do in order to improve your overall experience. They are three areas you need to focus on when preparing for class. Notice how I said focus, there are other areas you should put some attention to, but these are the big ones. The first is to review the course information, paying particular attention to the required gear list. Then, go over your logistics. The when and where are what I’m talking about. Last preparation for the class is to double check your gear and plan for some contingencies.

Know the Course Material

Drawing from concealed in the real world

Every school is a little different, but they will all usually have some type of course description. Some students will use this solely as their criterion for decision. Others will have “shopped around” through internet searches or word of mouth. I encourage you to know what you need, not what you want. For instance, if you need a better understanding on the drawstroke. Find an instructor who is known for doing an excellent job on the subject. You may find yourself in a situation where you don’t know what you need, you don’t know what you don’t know and that is perfectly acceptable. Have a broader goal in mind, to expand your knowledge base for example.

Review the Gear List

Read through the course description, all of the available material. If there is something you don’t understand, then do a little research. If there are terminal objectives or goals of the class, do they meet your needs. A good course will be well thought out and have an agenda or curriculum. The curriculum will guide the student towards the terminal objective through enabling objectives. All the information is important, but probably the most important is the required gear list and in this case the importance of your concealment carrying system. A lot of times, students will think of this as a suggestion. It is not, it is a list of required gear to ensure you have the best chance of doing well in the class. Don’t convince yourself you do or don’t need something. Read the list, even print the list out and check each item to make sure you are good to go. Think of this as an IQ test, can you follow simple instructions. Then at class, it is nice to be prepared and of course to not be “that guy.”

Do a Map Study and Plan Your Route

Logistics are a big thing to me. The old saying, “amateurs argue tactics and professionals argue logistics” is incredibly accurate. Start by knowing where you are going and how you will get there. Give yourself a little fudge factor on day one just to cover your basis. Don’t just know where you are going, but know the surrounding area. For instance, are there eateries near by or are you going to be packing a lunch or snacks. Something else to consider is how long is the commute. After a long day of training I suggest you consider the drive home. Be extra alert when going home since the fatigue of the day can affect your situational awareness as you drive home.

Get Your Eyes On Everything

The final preparation for your class will be to review your gear, like literally lay it all out and get your eyes on them. It is one thing to go over the required gear list and say to yourself I have that in my range bag. Only to realize you took it out to clean, replace or repair and failed to return it to your range bag. Some items are less important, a flashlight is not essential to a day light course. But a magazine pouch can make or break your experience in the class. Go over each item and ask yourself is this ‘thing” good to go. Has it been cleaned, or maintenance recently. Are there fresh batteries in use or am I running on empty. The devil is in the details so really go through the list.

Have a Plan and a Backup Plan

Think about the essential items. Your handgun for instance. Even though I have done a good job of picking a reliable model along with routine maintenance, things do break. Having a backup on standby has come to the rescue on more than one occasion. Spare magazines are another example. If you have the minimum as prescribed in the gear list that is great, but what if one of them goes down or you leave it in the hotel. There’s a myriad of reasons, so planning is key. Contingencies can go beyond your gear to your plan. Any physical activity will take its toll on your energy level. If you are planning to get lunch nearby, but all the local places are packed and you have to make a decision between being late or skipping lunch you might consider packing a lunch or some snacks.

Holsters, Be Prepared

Weak Side Carry 2
Be prepared with good, quality holsters

When it comes to our Concealed Carry classes there are three main failures from the gear list. The first is not having an “on the waistband” or OWB holster. You may try to justify you don’t need it because you have an IWB holster. That would be a mistake. The purpose behind the OWB holster is to start from a known and safe condition. Before we dive into the deep end of drawing and holstering from concealed, we have to ensure you have well developed and safe drawstroke from the lowest risk condition possible. That would be open carry, on the waistband.

Bring All The Required Clothing

The second mistake would be in failing to have all of the required clothing. In this class, you will be forced to work from a variety of cover garments. Not your favorite or go to, but a wide array to ensure you are prepared. It never fails, there is always that one person who thinks they know better. Trust me, you don’t. Bring all the clothing listed. Even if you don’t have something on the gear list for whatever reason you can probably borrow it from a family member or friend. Most of the items are pretty normal, but if you don’t have a rain jacket and you don’t want to buy one, they ask around to get a loaner.

Have an Open Mind

Last mistake we see often is when students fail to have an open mind. It doesn’t matter what you think or know, be open to new ideas. If you say to yourself while reading the gear list I don’t need this or that you would be demonstrating someone who has a closed mind. Don’t be that guy. Instead it should pique your curiosity. You should be wondering what are we going to be doing with that and why. Curiosity is your super power as a student. It is the single greatest characteristic that leads to expanded knowledge base. Back it up by understanding the why you are doing something a certain way or why you don’t do things a certain way.

If you take the time to review the course material paying attention to the required gear list, you have the best chance of succeeding in class. Or at least you won’t be held up because you don’t have this or forgot to bring that. Knowing the logistics will help you ensure you are not late or miss any course material. Some instructors will not allow you to participate if you miss the main emergency and medical plan brief so don’t be surprised if you have to sit down initially why the rest of the class trains. Double check and even triple check your gear. Have a system so you make sure you have all the gear you need and it is centrally located so when you load out early in the morning probably in the dark you don’t leave that one bag on the work bench. These are not just suggestions, they are observations over decades of training to help ensure you as the student have the best chance of success in our training classes.

What Are Sustainable Accuracy Standards

Lightweight rifle for better performance

Too often people, especially new to the shooting world will perceive a short cut towards developing accuracy in high dollar equipment. The thought process begins with this widget is capable of producing “x-level” performance and therefore I should see something similar.

The Cart Before the Horse

Before you can truly appreciate any piece of gear or equipment, you need to be skilled enough to see the benefit…literally. Think of it like having a high performance racing machine, but you’ve never felt g-force going into a turn. You will not be able to exploit the higher end attributes. You can still drive the racing machine on the streets, but that’s about as far as it goes. However, when you take the time to develop your driving skill, say through an advanced vehicle dynamics course now you have been exposed to what the machine’s capability are under your control. We can see the same thing in the shooting world when it comes to levels of precision for your equipment.

Rifle System

Repeatable Performance Is the Goal

During our rifle classes I get the chance to really expand on this subject. I talk in depth about the system you are employing. The system being the environment, rifle, optic, ammunition and the most important part of the system…you. What are you capable of repeatedly performing. That is the key, repeatability. Another way to look at it is consistency is accuracy and accuracy is nothing more than being consistent. I like to start by exploring the means to measure your accuracy and the most common method is through measuring the overall spread of your shot group in inches then converting that into another measurement referenced minute of angle.

Defining a Minute

Minute of angle is nothing more than angular measurements. There are plenty of other resources that do a great job of diving deep into the subject. For our purposes we want to understand what is commonly referenced as a “shooter’s minute”. Since a precise minute of angle measures 1.047 inches at 100 yards we round down to an even inch. So, one inch equals one minute of angle at 100 yards. This measurement is proportionate so as the distance increases so to does the measurement. For example, at 200 yards one minute of angle (1MOA) equals 2 inches and at 400 yards it equals 4 inches and at 800 yards it equals 8 inches. The precision of a rifle is usually measured in the shot group spread at 100 yards expressed in MOA. If your rifle is capable of shooting a shot group that is 1 inch, it is said to be a 1MOA rifle.

50yd. 4MOA shot group

The Relevancy of Accuracy Standards

This might be the true potential of the rifle, but what are you capable of doing on command consistently. The standard of accuracy for both the student and equipment in our classes is 4MOA. What that means is I’m asking the student to consistently and on command shoot to within a 4MOA shot group when demonstrating their accuracy such as when zeroing the rifle. Going back to our earlier formula, we know that at 100 yards, 1 inch equals 1MOA, but what is it at the 50 yard line? If you are good at math, you would’ve calculated ½ inch. So, at 50 yards, trying to shoot to a 4MOA group means your shot group is no more than 2 inches. If you are capable of achieving this level of performance then theoretically you should be able to hold this shot group at various distances.

The 4MOA Factors

At the 100 yard line, the shot group size would be 4 inches and at the 200 yard line the shot group would be 8 inches. That to me is the best distance to evaluate performance. If you can maintain an 8 inch group or better at 200 yards then your understanding of the marksmanship fundamentals are pretty solid. I know what you are thinking, at this point in the article why am I content with 4MOA. To be honest, I’m not. However, what my experience has shown me is most shooters are not skilled enough to repeatedly shoot a tighter group. The goal, therefore slightly shifts to more about repeatability rather than precision. If they can repeatedly produce groups at the 3MOA that is great, if they can do it at 2MOA, even better. The 4MOA standard gives everyone a start point as they work towards refining their marksmanship fundamentals.

Adding Maintenance to the Equation

This again is where consistency comes into the equation. When you can consistently demonstrate a 4MOA shot group at various yard lines you start to understand what it takes to accomplish this task. You realize it is definitely the indian and not as much the arrow. I love seeing students repeatedly meet this standard. It is a huge confidence builder. It also paves the way for improvements. Because when the shooter is consistent, they start to see their shot group get tighter and there is where precision comes into the equation. It becomes easier and easier for them to maintain this standard. If you are not on the rifle as often as you want, but you can still deliver the 4MOA group in my opinion you are good to go.

Careful Investment into the Art

The other benefit to the 4MOA accuracy standard is it allows new shooters to wade into the game at a more reasonable upfront investment. An off the shelf rifle from a reputable manufacture with a decent optic properly mounted and zeroed firing reliable ammunition can accomplish this task with relative ease. We have seen this demonstrated in our Rifle 3 classes on a pretty regular basis. I even have had my doubts about some rifles, but the shooter steps up to the plate and delivers the 4MOA group. It is only when they consistently perform to this accuracy standard they can see the value of “upgrades”. Upgrades like rifles built for precision. Ammunition made to match standards and optics that are ultra fine in their adjustments.

Start With a Basic Rifle and Go From There

What I see in classes oftentimes the reverse of the process described above. The idea high end upgraded equipment can substitute for lack of skill has been costly to many. I mean costly in the literal terms. Instead, take the equipment you have and invest in quality training and regular practice. You will see far greater return on your investment. There is also a better appreciation for the process of developing the skill and how to exploit said skill. Don’t mistake what I’m saying for meaning you won’t see any improvements with high end upgraded gear, the problem is you probably won’t see it for a while.

I love shooting rifles, I love the precision they allow me to demonstrate. I love the discipline needed to demonstrate said precision. I invested in a quality rifle, then use the most precise ammunition I can afford in bulk and practice, practice a lot. That is the secret to really being a rifleman.

Low Powered Variable Optics

Evolution is a great thing. It produces success out of failure. What I mean, you either adapt or you get left behind. Such is the nature in the tactical market and in particular the low powered variable optic world. Before you jump down a rather expensive road, you need to know some things. The first thing you need to know is can you define the optic as a need or a want. Genuinely is there a need, of do you just want to keep up with all the cool kids. The reason I start with this has to do with your investment in truly understanding how best to exploit the new purchase.

What Plane Do I Choose

The first thing you need to consider is what focal plane, first or second. I could go into detail about the benefits of each, but suffice it to say you want a first focal plane scope. The biggest reason has to do with shooting holds. If you are using a low powered optic it is implied you will be doing work probably in a dynamic environment where the scenario may not provide you time to adjust your scope to the target distance. Instead, you use a predetermined “hold” to place a portion of your reticle on the target. Thus, compensating for the distance that differs from your zero. As you adjust the magnification up or down, your reticle increases or decreases, but your holdover values will remain the same. This simplifies your firing solution and reduces the computations you would have to do otherwise.

All The Magnification

1-8x is the newer and more popular scops

The next big question is magnification and how much. There is such a thing as too much magnification. What it translate to is weight. Yes, cost will increase as you go up in magnification, but it is really about weight. In today’s market you can find LPVO’s in the 1:8 range. These are great force multipliers, but the weight can turn them into a con. Again, it is implied your use will be in an urban defensive rifle setting and as such you will probably not be in a prone position. While you may obtain a supported position, you cannot count on it so holding the rifle to make a long shot will be a requirement. If the weight starts to become a hinderance it doesn’t matter how much magnification. Optimally, you should try to keep the scope under 22 ounces; which includes the mount.

Double Duty In Daytime

Since we will be employing the scope in an urban setting, the range to target may be close. The scope will need to double as a red dot or reflex sight. Those that come with day time viewable illumination are preferred. A word of caution though, if you are in very bright daylight such as mid day with no cloud cover many of the illuminated reticles are washed out by the sun. If you are going down this road, you want the dot to be bright. An observation I’ve made over the years is if the scope doesn’t have at least six or more intensity settings it probably will not be bright enough. As a reflex sight option you want it to be fast, the contrast of the illuminated dot or reticle is what makes that happen, but only if it is visible in all lighting conditions

Don’t Forget A Good Mount

Whatever your scope choice, it will only be as good as the mount. If you spend a lot of money on your scope, but try to cut corners on your mount you will see poor performance. Think of a mount like tires for a sports car. If you put crappy tires on your super fast car, how much speed will you really be able to exploit. The real question is quick release or no quick release. That depends on your backup sight system. If you are using foldable iron sights then you will want a quick release. If you are mounting a mini-red dot sight to the scope or rifle then it doesn’t matter. If you run the MRDS remember it will add weight overall. Once you pick a good mount, the next issue is to properly mount the scope to your rifle. You will want to make sure you it is installed properly to the best image for performance. When I say properly it means secure, but also level. Take the time to ensure the diopter adjustment is properly set to ensure the reticle is in sharp focus. Most LPVO’s do not have adjustable parallax. They are typically fixed at a set distance. The diopter adjustment basically focuses your eye to the reticle. If you scope has a diopter locking ring, make sure it is secure and if not consider using a witness line. This is a very common mistake for newer shooters; using a blurry sight picture because the diopter is out of focus.

Read The Users Manual

Once you have the scope properly installed you next need to learn how to use it and that means being familiar with all the features. The most common features in an LPVO are magnification, illumination, reticle turrets and the reticle. There may be a few other features, but these are the big ones, so break out the user manual and study. The magnification and illumination are the easiest to learn. They are often marked on the scope itself. Know how your power ring works and if it has a device for rapidly adjusting magnification. Those can be a knob, fin or an extrusion from the scope itself. You will want to get in the practice of always resting your magnification to 1x. Make this a habit, so if you ever have to snap a shot at close range you are not fighting your magnification. Depending on your situation, I recommend leaving the illumination set to a day time view for the same reason. Where things get really complicated is learning your scope turrets and reticle.

Pay Close Attention To The Turrets

When it comes to scope turrets, you will either have capped or exposed. Don’t get wrapped up in which is better, know how to use which ever you have. The one benefit to a capped turret is not worrying about the settings. With capped turrets they cannot accidentally be turned throwing off your scope settings. The bad news, if you want to make adjustments quickly you still have to remove the caps. It is not often you have to do this and for an urban rifle the possibly is infantile. You will really see this when learning your scope on the firing line and dealing with wind. While you will use holds for the majority of engagements, you may find yourself dialing in for some specific situations such as shooting in high winds. It is much easier to eliminate one variable such as your elevation and focus on making the best wind calls. You do want to know the unit of measurement for your scope. Are you using a MIL, MOA or BDC based scope.

What Type of Reticle Is Best

What type of reticle should you go with

Referencing MIL, MOA or BDC is related to the type of reticle. There was a time when I only shot BDC scopes. They were the best in that setting, but things changed. Better ammunition that differed from the BDC rendering it less effective. BDC stands for bullet drop compensator. As the bullet travels in flight, gravity is pulling it to the ground. To hit targets at distance we aim high, how high depends on many factors. The BDC scope eliminated the need to do math and know most of the factors. All you had to know was the distance to the target. Great if you are shooing on a known distance range, not so much in the real world. Now a days, MOA is seeing less and less popularity. If you are using a MOA scope you are not at a disadvantage, but you will have to work a tad harder. MIL version reticles are the most popular and for good reason, they are easier to use. I know easier is subjective, but I find them to be easier these days and I have a lot of hours under my belt with MOA scopes. The big thing here is knowing the unit of measurement. Are you running a 0.1 or 0.2 MIL scope or do you have a ½ or ¼ MOA scope. This references what I call the corrective value. Part of your formula for making corrections. Yes, the smaller measures will be more precise, but they will also be more expensive. Again, as a LPVO do you really need the ultra precise. Only you will know the answer.

Traditional Vs. Technical Reticles

The last and probably the most important thing to consider is your reticle. There are so many, but the new crop of technical reticles are awesome. Think of a technical reticle as a Christmas tree like pattern below your crosshairs. Traditional crosshairs are minimalist. Usually having subtends for holding elevation and windage only. While these are very valuable, they also get really challenging fast. If you have no reason to shoot past 500 yards then maybe you can stay with a traditional crosshair type reticle. If you are going beyond 500, then they are almost required. Even still, the technical reticle excels at close ranges. For me, the biggest advantage to a technical reticle is wind. If I’m at a distance different from my zero, then I will be holding. Add wind and now I’m holding for elevation and wind. With a traditional crosshair scope I’m literally holding in space, using a guess to be as precise as possible. With the technical reticle, I scroll down to the proper hold for elevation, then scroll over to the proper hold for wind and I have a precise aiming point. I’ve made shots out to 1,000 yards using this method and the only reason was because of the technical reticle.

At the end of the day, choosing a scope is a challenge. You first want to identify your budget. how much are you willing to spend. Then, decide on the features such as first or second focal plane. How much magnification I want. The type of measurement and how precise I need along with capped or uncapped turrets. Traditional crosshairs or the newer technical reticles that will most likely be illuminated. All this in the smallest and lightest package possible. You are probably seeing the challenge, but I promise you it will be worth the effort when you push out side normal close ranges. A rifleman is someone who can willfully and repeatedly place a projectile where they want. This includes the mid ranges, what I consider to be 0-500 yards.

Preparing For A Mid Range Rifle Class

There is no mistaking my love for rifles, all things rifles. I started pushing the standard issue M4/AR15 out at distance way back in the day. It was important I learn how to exploit distance to my advantage, being able to reach out and touch people. It didn’t take long to figure out I would need to adapt my gear to better exploit this capability. Relying on gear alone is a mistake, fundamental skills become even more important as we extend the ranges. The dirty little secret folks don’t discuss has to do with weight. The heavier the rifle, the harder it will be able to hit at distance when not in a prone position. So, the goal becomes finding a balance between your mission and your ability.

Choosing The Rifle

A good rifle is your first step

It all starts with the rifle and we are not talking about a high end match grade rifle. We are talking your general purpose rifle from a reputable manufacture that values, reliability first, accuracy second. These rifles will be more than adequate. It is easy to pursue extreme capabilities from your gear, but they move you out of a generalist and into a specialist. Our goal is to stay within the realm of being a generalist and do it better. I get asked the question all the time, how accurate should my rifle be when looking at distance. It makes sense to consider the capability of the rifle, but it’s your ability that matters. If you have a rifle capable of 2MOA that to me is plenty good. Theoretically you would see a 10″ group spread at 500 yards; which is probably the extreme distance for a GP rifle. What really matters is the barrel length and weight. I recommend 14.5″ with permanently attached flash hider or 16″ at a minimum. Rifle weight naked should be around the 5.5lb mark.

Aftermarket Additions to Consider

Things you can do to accurize the rifle begin with the trigger. Investing in a good aftermarket two stage trigger that allows for precision at distance and performance at close range. Hands down, this is the most important thing you can do to the rifle. Ammunition and optics come later. The next piece of gear is an adjustable sling, usually a two point design. These slings allow for improvised support position when stability is necessary, but traditional support unavailable. They can also be used to improve stable shooting positions and important for any rifle use in general. I go back and forth with a quick detach lightweight bi-pod. On my standard issue AR15 I carried one and it was great, but it added weight. So, for all the traditional roles, I was carrying extra weight. When I needed it though, it was awesome! For all your prone zeroing and range familiarizations I recommend them. Lastly, a smaller capacity magazine. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but it is helpful for when zeroing since it allows you to get a lower prone position.

The Optic, Dot or Scope

Tough choices, define your mission

The second most asked question has to do with optics or scopes. This is your training so use what you feel comfortable with or can afford. We’ve had people come through this class with both red dot sights (RDS) and low powered variable optics (LPVO). They discover the limitations in each and either work within them or move to another option as a result. The bottom line, define your mission. If this is a general purpose rifle designed to fulfill multiple roles then consider both of these options and realize they each have pro’s & con’s. From an entry level point, RDS will be cheaper and lighter. The biggest con is as distance increases their performance decreases. We see performance drop off around the 300yd. line. That is not to say a good rifleman cannot get the job done further, it means it is harder. If you are going to go down the RDS road get the smallest dot available, usually around 2MOA. Consider adding a magnifier, while not the same as an LPVO it really gives you options. I love magnifiers and at times will use them as a monocular if not on my rifle. With a 3x magnifier, you have the possibility of extending the range to maybe the 500yd. On the flip side, a good LPVO is going to cost you. Generally, starting at about twice as much as an RDS.

Closer Look at LPVO’s

I could spend hours talking about LPVO’s, but here are some simple tips. First, figure out how much you are willing to spend. I mean, really figure out your budget. Most top end manufactures will make something starting out at the $1,000-1,500 range. From there, you are off to the races. The more premium the features, the higher the cost. Should you go with a first or second focal plane? I suggest first focal plane for this mission. Realize though going with a first focal plane will generally be more costly. I have both, but prefer first focal plane for this mission, particularly with the need to be fast at close range. I suggest a technical reticle if available, but an improved duplex reticle will get the job done. The most important thing to remember is learn your reticule, understand how to use all the features. With the popularity of scopes in Milliradian or Minute of Angle it would seem hard to choose, but Mil scopes are increasing in popularity. My only recommendation is to ensure your reticle and turrets are the same. Meaning, avoid a scope with a MOA reticle and Mil turrets. Trust me, you don’t want to do any extra math. Because we need this LPVO to do work at close range you need to strongly consider how good the red dot feature is of the make/model. Let’s face it, the likelihood you will be legally and morally justified in taking a shot greater than 100yds. is all but wishful thinking. But, using the rifle inside the 25yd. is way more likely. Using the red dot as your primary, then dialing in magnification is more the norm. Both the size of the dot and brightness need to be considered. Realize, it will do a good job, but at the end of the day it is not a RDS. While training can help close the gap, the gap will still exist. The real question is how much magnification. Again, this is tied to dollars and ounces. The more magnification, the more expensive. The more magnification the heavier the scope. There is a new breed of 1×8’s that are doing great and pretty light compared to other comparable options. I consider length a close third, but I’m flexible with this feature. There are other features to consider and probably the biggest is do you go with capped or exposed turrets. Given the mission of this scope it is far more likely you will be using holds to engage targets at distance and unknown ranges. But, dialing up will still be more precise so it really depends on your preference. I do recommend some type of zero stop. Throw levers are another nice feature to aide in adjusting magnification. Lastly is how precise the corrections. Again, this is tied to dollars so the more precise, the pricer the optic. At a minimum I would go with 0.2mil or ½MOA.

Feeding Your Rifle

Ammunition is another subject we could spend hours discussing. The hard part is finding good ammunition in sufficient quantities. In our classes, you can expect to shoot somewhere between 500-750 depending on your skill. On rare occasions we get close to 1,000 rounds. The biggest consideration is bullet weight when attempting to reach further ranges. I prefer the 77gr. projectiles for the simple fact they do better in high wind conditions. Not to mention they appear to have really nice terminal performance. I don’t much care what brand you go with, but if you are going with a 77gr. projectile it will probably be of some open tip match type or OTM. Trust me, selecting a high quality round will make a huge difference. I occasionally get asked if we allow other calibers than 5.56mm. The answer is of course as long as it will not damage our steel targets we are game. I’ve seen 5.56mm, 6.8SPC, 7.62x39mm (poorest performer) and 7.62x51mm. If I was being honest, the 6.8SPC has done the best, but the cost and availability are the wild card. Whatever round you choose to go with consider purchasing twice the round count. This will give you plenty of ammunition for the class, then plenty for your continued professional development. Along with having a decent chance being close if not part of the same lot. You don’t have to shoot these high dollar rounds for the entire class. You can bring FMJ ammunition, but just realize you will be staring out behind the power curve. I suggest at a minimum 50% of the OTM type, then the remaining of the FMJ type. This will ensure you have plenty of OTM ammunition to zero and familiarize at the different known ranges. Then use the FMJ for all close in work where precision is less of an issue. One thing I strongly suggest is knowing the muzzle velocity for your rifle with the preferred ammunition. While manufactures will provide the tested muzzle velocity it is unlikely it will match your rifle, the most obvious being barrel length. There are some decent online references to help narrow it down. In a pinch, you can use as a rough estimate of a 25fps decrease of for every inch decrease in barrel length. The last thing to consider if you bring different ammunition is the shift in point of impact. Know where each projectile will impact at certain distances. If you use FMJ for the close range drills be familiar with the shift in point of impact. They can be marginal and depending on the target demand have little impact.

Math is Hard, Calculators Help

While not mandatory, a ballistic calculator or application is strongly suggested. There are a couple of good ones and I’ve been using iSnipe for over a decade. What these apps allow you to do is develop a more precise understanding of your rifle’s characteristics with all the variable you will face. Being able to exploit the information to better understand your maximum point blank range is integral part of being a rifleman. Because we are looking at a 300yd. and in learning your holds is important. Luckily they are not too extreme and a good technical reticle will be hugely valuable. If any variable changes you can see how severe the change will affect your ballistics. Whenever I travel to a new location the first thing I do is input the conditions to see how much it affects my zero. With my rifle zeroed and confirmed at home I can get insight into how the new conditions will affect my performance. In particular is the maximum point blank range. I’ve learned that some locations have had little impact on my PBR, while others I had to re-zero to ensure the best performance.

As you get ready for the upcoming class or just want to better exploit your rifle consider the information outlined in this article. It all starts with a reliable and accurate rifle. A 2MOA capability is plenty, it will always rest with the shooter’s marksmanship. From there consider aftermarket accessories to improve precision such as drop in triggers and good slings. Decide whether to use a RDS or LPVO and which ever one you use opt for the smallest dot for day time or close range shooting. If you are going to invest in an LPVO make sure you understand all the features available and make sure they meet your needs so you are not paying for something you don’t need. Ammunition will be your next biggest investment and invest you should. Go with the heavier bullets of an open tip match design. Then purchase as much as you can afford. Keep the surplus in a cool dry place and confirm your zero every chance you get. Start playing with ballistic calculators to become more familiar with ambient conditions that can adversely affect your performance. At the end of the day, shooting at distance is costly. I find being able to hit at extended distances a huge asset and I’m willing to pay the toll. Hopefully you will find the same satisfaction I feel when pushing myself and gear to the extreme.

Performance Degradtion

Practice

Going Down Hill…Fast

How much time off does it take to see a meaningful degradation to your developed skills? How much can you get away with before the detrimental effects cost you in performance?

Hard Work Pays Off

ProDev
Practice, practice, practice

Something that is not often talked about is performance maintenance. Specifically how much maintenance needed to sustain your current skill level. Whatever the skill level it will require effort proportionate to the skill level. Consider these two parts to this equation. The first and hardest part is acknowledging you will have to continue to put in hard work. This is sometimes difficult to convey to the masses. Nothing is free and if you worked hard to develop the skill, you will have to work equally hard if not harder to sustain the skill. The second part is how hard do you need to work to sustain the skill. I often associate this with what is the intensity and frequency of my practice needed to sustain a specific level.

Forced Time Out

I voluntarily took some time off from training recently. All training; shooting, lifting, grappling and striking. I wanted to enjoy the holidays and figured I deserved some time off. Then I got ill and that added more time off than I expected. It was about six weeks off completely before I got back to the range for some live fire training. The results were more than disappointing. They were shocking. At least to me. I saw a noticeable increase in my failure to meet minimum standards on baselines. These are simple drills used to evaluate a battery of skills. Every now and then I will fail a baseline drill, but the failure is a rarity. In this case, I failed on over 70% of the drills I shot.

Acceptable Levels of Failure

Honestly, I was expecting a little dip in performance, but I definitely wasn’t expecting such poor results. It wasn’t only on my first trip back to the range, but the next couple before I started to see my skill level normalize. When you see performance drop after an extended absence what can you expect? Well, at the very least the same if not worse. The hard part is being able to put some concrete numbers in place to help people appreciate this situation. When you take time off for whatever reason it will have negative effects on your performance. Again, the question is how much and is that still within acceptable limits.

A Journey of Discovery

This means you first have to establish some baseline standards. I suggest at least a half dozen different drills. Drills of various tasks, under various conditions to various standards. You need a broad scope to truly appreciate your hard work. From there, you want to experiment. What happens when you take two weeks off, 3 weeks off and 4 weeks off from training of any kind to include dry fire. If you are still able to pass your battery of baseline drills with up to 4 weeks off that signifies you have a well adapted set of skills. Truthfully I see that in a very small segment of the shooting population. The vast majority will see poor results within 2 weeks of no training.

The Hourly Evaluation

Something to think about is the details of your journey measured in hours. The more hours of formalized training/instruction you have under your belt, the more likely you are to sustain longer droughts. An example would be if you are an elite level shooter, then with 6 weeks off due to an injury or illness you can probably expect to shoot at the advance level when you return to training. Most would agree that advance level shooting is more than adequate to meet many of shooting standards and therefore not a significant penalty (other than to the ego). Now, if you were to consider a basic level shooter who takes off 2 weeks can probably expect their shooting skill level to be at the beginner level when they return. Which is one of the reasons we see so many students who fail to break the basic level.

Experiments Are Fun

I conducted an experiment where I took a 12 month period and partitioned it into 30 day segments of training. The first 3 months were a combination of dry fire and minimal live fire. The next 6 months were dry fire only and the last 3 months were back to dry fire and minimal live fire. When I say minimal it was no more than 50 rounds of ammunition. What I discovered was dry fire did indeed help me not only sustain my performance, but actually improve by a few percentage points. The reason I bring this up is if you are not going to routinely live fire train, then at least setup a consistent dry fire routine. The benefit of investing in a consistent training plan is to help bridge the gap when life makes it hard to practice. Most take for granted the challenges of sustaining their hard earned skills. Don’t be complacent or at the very least acknowledge your likely skill decline.

The next challenge is in trying to assess the different skill levels, not by achievement alone, but by how hard to maintain. What I have discovered is that

Dry Fire Doesn’t Work Unless…

Dry Fire 2

If Its Worth Doing, Its Worth Doing Right

There are many general truths in this world that I follow on a regular basis. One of my favorite maxim is “you get out of it, what you put into it.”

Winning Means Sacrifice

During the pandemic we all had to suffer and many things changed. We changed the way we see the world and we changed the way we see many of our politicians. Some not in a good way. One thing that didn’t change for me was the drive to train. It might have been modified a little, but at its core it did not change. When I say drive to train I’m talking about the urge to improve or what I sometimes reference as an insatiable act to win. Winning can be defined differently for many people, but I define winning as in some way, shape or form related to victory. Consistency putting in the effort to improve is about a lot of things, one thing often overlooked is sacrifice.

No Such Thing As A Natural

If you want to be better at something, anything it will take practice. No amount of natural skill will ever replace hard work. So, what happens when you don’t want to put in the hard work, well is is pretty simple. You continue to suck. I put a lot of clout into the importance of live fire training, how it is irreplaceable for shooting skill development. What happens when you cannot conduct live fire training. Like during a pandemic when not only did we have to deal with lockdowns, but an ammunition shortage. I know I’m not the only one who saw a dramatic decrease in their live fire training during the pandemic. It seemed to me a perfect time to evaluate how well dry fire really works. Nothing like a semi-forced experiment to shed some light on a subject.

What Reality Really Looks Like

Before the pandemic it was quite normal for me to shoot around 200 rounds during each range trip. I would often get one maybe two range trips in per month. A low end average was approxmately 3,000 rounds per year, per weapon system. This excluded the rounds fired for demonstrations during training or insturction. This was my own private professional development. The number dropped to maybe 800 on the low end, 1,000 on the high end during the pandemic for my an annual expenditure of live fire training. That is about an 65% decrease for those wondering. This could have incredibly important implications. My experiment was simple, is there a way to sustain your current skill level or better improve your current skill with dry fire training only?

Dry Fire
Deep practice and concentration are key…

The Heart Of The Experiment

One of my pet peeves is when someone who really cannot help a student, presumably an instructor will tell the student to just do more dry fire practice. They make this suggestion partially because they don’t know how to solve some of the stubborn shooting errors. In this case, I wanted see how much dry fire would sustain my skills. I purposely went to a specific dry fire routine to discover for myself what was really going on with my skills. Then, when I spoke with a student about dry fire I could put something more tangible other than “because” as to the why. The length of the experiement started at six months. It included a live fire baseline assessment of various shooting drills in the beginning. The baseline was designed to have a wide scope of evaluation and was only 50 rounds total. This live fire along with the dry fire routine was repeated for three months, then for the remaining three months dry fire only.

Confused By The Data

Some very intersting things happened. First, my dry fire was daily and consisted of approximately 50 dry fire trigger manipulations from a variety of conditions. On target, at a ready position and from the holster both open and concealed. Once I had my system down it took 15 minutes from start to finish. Some drills were timed while others were subjectively based as to whether I considered it a good repetition or a “no rep”. At the end of the six months I shot the baseline drill again and I saw a 3% decline in my performance. Well, that wasn’t what I expected, but there was still a nagging question.

What The Numbers Really Say

What if it was more about sustainment. In other words, I only lost 3% of my observed skill level over a six month period with dry fire and 200 rounds fired. I don’t know about you, but I see that as a big win. I extended my experiment for another six months without any interruptions. These next three months were again dry fire only bringing the total to six months. At this mark, I saw something interesting. I was looking at a 2% improvement, I had somehow made up a 5% increase in the nine months of this experiement. I’m not going to lie, I was giddy as all get out and I could hardly wait to see the end of the experiement a full 12 months to see what would happen. At the end of my experiement my total rounds fired was 400 rounds and I saw 5% improvement for a grand total of 8% over the period of the experiment.

Easy Come, Easy Go

What did all this mean in the end for me. Consistency. Let’s face it a 5% improvement is not that big a deal. Or is it? When you realize I was not training nearly as often nor to the same volume it is pretty damn impressive to see the improvement as far as I’m concerned. It also puts to bed the question “does dry fire help.” I don’t think anyone doubted it, no one had any data or figures to help show a tangible benefit or justication for your time, talent and treasure. Now, here is the bad news. Shortly after this past holiday I got a nasty case of bronchitis. Add to that my voluntary time off from training, all training and it was about 30 days. I literally threw all that work out the window in 30 days. My skill level dropped significantly in that time period. I believe that is more telling than the 5% improvement. I wish I had shot the same baseline but I didn’t. What I observed instead was a massive failure. Five out of the eight drills I failed to meet the standard. Those who know me, know that is huge.

The lesson to be learned here is don’t go crazy, keep it short and simple, but above all else…be consistent. Dry fire can at the very minimum help sustain your skill and depending on the individual even help improve over time.

Keeping Safe In Turbulent Times With Jeff Gonzales – U.S. Navy SEAL

The Art of Self Reliance

In this episode I talk to Jeff Gonzales.

Jeff was a decorated and respected US Navy SEAL for 12 years. He graduated from BUDs class #155 and was immediately transferred to SEAL Team Four. He served at ST4 as an operator and trainer where he routinely participated in numerous combat operations that led to the successful and timely accomplishment of strategic operational objectives.

While at ST4 he was responsible for training fellow team mates in various combat related skills such as weapons, tactics and demolitions. Selected for the teams training cell he was instrumental in developing several blocks of instruction that increased the Teams overall combat effectiveness.

Ranked as one of the senior Petty Officers of his command he strived to not only improve upon himself, but his community at large. For his efforts he was recognized on several occasions and was presented with awards in appreciation of his service.

In this episode I explore with Jeff three main topics, namely,

  • Current events and safety
  • Deciding to be armed
  • Pro tips for concealed carry

You can find out more about Jeff at: https://tridentconcepts.com/

The Beginner’s Curse

What Value Do You Offer Your Students

Over the years I have trained thousands of students. The most valuable skill I can offer is not some super secret or high speed technique, it is nothing more than the fundamentals and it is these fundamentals that create the beginner’s curse.

What Is Mastery

The biggest challenge any instructor has is in their efficacy for behavioral change in their students. Students bring a lot to class, they can be motivated, ready to learn and physically active. Or, they can be none of those. It doesn’t matter because your charge is to train them in whatever skill set and skill level they selected. When I look at the effectiveness of my curriculum I’m looking to see how well we produced the desired result. The best results have always come from our insatiable drive to focus on the fundamentals. While many things have changed over the years, this philosophy of minimalism has stood the test of time. When I reference a minimalism philosophy what I mean is strict adherence to mastery of the fundamentals and nothing else.

Don’t Do Things To Delay Mastery

Here is the hard part as an instructor. Sticking to your guns. If you believe mastery of the fundamentals is what the student needs, then deliver it in the best way you can. The problem is when the student who is nothing more than a customer wants something that might be considered excessive, unnecessary or down right silly. What i can lead to is weak fundamentals or what I consider the most overlooked key. Delayed mastery. Folks wonder why mastering something is so difficult. The act or skill itself may not be difficult, but the difficulty comes in the form of time. The time it takes to master is whatever it takes to master. There are no shortcuts. There is simply working hard to perfect the fundamentals. When a student gets wrapped up in current trends, new equipment or even sophisticated or overly complicated tactics or techniques they fall victim to the beginner’s curse.

Quality Over Quantity

Beginner's Curse 2
Discussing common mistakes with a student

Whether a beginner or elite, the fundamentals do not change. The steps that make up a skill are still the same. The steps did not disappear, they became effortless to the elite and that’s the difference. But, when you begin your journey it is easy to fall victim to the flash and hype to the beginner’s curse. It is human nature. You have identified a goal and now just want to get to that goal faster. I get it and have been there myself. The harsh reality is will take time, lots of time to master a skill. The secret to mastering the skill is wanting to master it in the first place. If you are not committed to mastery, you will never achieve mastery. I don’t think it is fair to state mastery will be achieved within a set time period. Whether it is 10,000, 1,000 or 100 hours what makes the difference is your dedication to the practice. I would rather have 100 hours of high quality practice versus 10,000 of low quality practice. If I can add a feedback loop to those 100 hours to help ensure each one is achieving the very best outcome that is even better. Then, take what I have discovered in my 100 hours of deliberate practice and share it with friends, families or peers. Being a “teacher” teaching someone what you discovered in your 100 hours is hugely valuable. What ties all of this together is those 100 hours were focused on mastering the fundamentals. Let that soak in because that is the most important sentence you will read.

I love the idea of mastering a skill, it is a drive that pushes me to be the very best. No matter the skill, mastering the fundamentals is the number one goal. Everything else is a distraction.

Learning Transfer

Technique

Training For The Unknowable…

The harsh reality should you react to a deadly force encounter, is it will not be anything like what you practiced. It will be a small sliver of your training and you will more than likely need to adapt to the newness you are witnessing with learning transfer.

Does It Bring Value

For the longest time I have been preaching how as an instructor I’m trying to prepare a student for an unknown and unknowable event. It is impossible to say with a high degree of certainty you will be able to predict the type of deadly force encounter you experience. There are lots of different perspectives on training theories within the tactical community. They are all explorable options, but not all of them are valuable options. The worst thing you could do is to become a specialist. Someone that specializes in a unique area. Even if that area is considered by some to be “trending” or “popular” there are still so many unknowns.

It Shouldn’t Be A Bridge Too Far

Instead, I prefer to teach students how to adapt with the essential skills they have developed. We define essential skills as those necessary to be competent, but more importantly…resilient. I would much rather develop a resilient student. One who can observe his surroundings and realize they are not exactly what they have practiced for, but have the ability to quickly bridge that gap and solve the problem. They must be able to “read the need, the feed the need”. This bridging action is referenced as learning transfer. It makes up the core tenets for just about any initiative based tactics commonly used in close quarters battle.

The Difference Between Practice & Real Life

Training never ends, no matter the skill level

The very best tactical teams will be expertly skilled at their job. This expert skill level is not quite what many would think. It is more about creating the enviornment for the assaulter to think their way through the problem. To provide an opportunity to observe their surroundings, recognize the subtle difference between what they are seeing and what they have practiced, this is the essence of learning transfer. Then in a split second, make a decision and act. Act with an intention and move with a purpose. Over decades of solving problems we have come to realize there is not going to be an exact mock-up of the target. Only in very rare circumstances do we actually get to train on a replica mock-up. While you would think this is good, there is a down size.

The Advantage Is In Better Decisions

The downsize is when the replica is not an exact replica. The oddity is now a major obstruction. Because of the pre-planned action being front loaded, there is more dwell time. The end user has to recognize the difference, then review the best options and finally act. Many time, the speed of execution produces hasty judgments that don’t really solve the problem. The slightest change can cause the gears to come to a grinding halt. Basically, the assaulter is having to take in the realistic information and accept it is different from what they expected. This type of choreographed activity is not nearly as reliable as an initiative based theory. What is the biggest difference between the two? Time. The time it takes to act with the best outcome is much shorter with initiative based tactics. When we train to a certain standard, then allow the situation to dictate you will be far more likely to act in a timely manner, but here is the kicker. Your decisions will be better suited to the situation because of learning transfer helping to produced a positive outcome. When we train to this level, modifications of learned skills and the ability to adapt those skills when a new context or stimuli without prior training provides us a huge advantage in a critical incident.

There is a time and a place for rot memorization and application, but when you cannot accurately predict the type of deadly force encounter it is much better to adapt. This adaptation and improvisation will survive contact with an unknown, unknowable event.

Trident Concepts
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