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.

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.

Weight And Its Effect On Performance

Light Is Right

There will always be a tipping point, where too much of a good thing can be bad. One scenario I have paid more attention to is with rifles; their weight and its effect on performance.

It’s Always About The Ounces

Ever since I can remember, there has always been an association with lighter being better. Again, not a blanket statement you can easily make when you factor in durability and reliability. The lighter option may not have the ability to take higher use. I saw this first hand in my military career when we were always trying to shave ounces off our gear. Having to carry the weight is one thing, having to fight with the weight is a completely different story. You feel its effect most often in a negtive manner. But, there was always the need to have a high reliability on the gear we used so it still had to be tough. Flash forward to modern times and you can still see a similar trend.

If You Know, You Know

We have a rifle weigh-in at the beginning of our rifle classes. What we are doing is collecting metrics to compare with performance. Do we see a trend of heavy to light weight rifles effecting shooting performance. By shooting performance we are talking about scores and overall final grade. Generally speaking the lighter the rifle, the higher the chance of passing the class. There could be a lot of different reasons for this trend. Maybe it has more to do with the end user understanding the idea of minimizing his loadout to the bear necessities. Someone with this mindset, might already have the prerequisite skills to be an above average shooter. Their marksmanship skills are tied to the idea of understanding performance.

Define The Mission

When we see rifles weighing more than normal, does it help or hurt the student’s performance. In general, weight and its effect on performanceit has hurt their ability to score high or achieve a passing grade. While we have only been collecting the rifle’s weight and its effect on performance for about three years, it does illustrate a belief that I have had for as long as I can remember. Having a light weight rifle with the minimum gear necessary to complete your mission should be your top priority. This goes further into defining your mission, specifically the mission of the rifle. Here is where we see many folks make mistakes. Without having a weight metric to include with their decision making matrix this very important point is left out. When you start to get into the weeds you have a better chance of identifying your needs more clearly.

Needs Vs. Wants

Define the mission for your rifle. For the vast majority, the rifle will fullfil an urban defensive mission. The range to target in these self-defense shootings will be close. What you need, versus what you want are two different subjects. When you start adding up all the accessories are they offering you advantage, a force multiplier. Or are they just there as a decoration. I refernce decoration for a lot of add on’s because most truly have no real need for some items. But, just because you don’t need them doesn’t mean you don’t add them on to the rifle. If you do, how will it affect your performance. Rather than tell you what you need, I will provide you some observations as it relates to the overall weight of the rifle unloaded.

What Is The Magic Number

Rifle Weigh-in 2
Nice, optical weight

I have found if you can keep your rifle to 8 pounds or less you are heading in the right direction regarding weight and its effect on performance. While I’ve seen rifles much heavier in our classes, the scores were also lower. I’m not saying don’t add to your rifle, but before you do ask this question. How will this positiviely and negatively effect my performance. If the added weight is going to push you over that 8 pound mark then you have that information in advance and make a more informed decision. Does the percieved advantage outweight the added weight…literally. Here is what we typically see on rifles in our classes that come in at the 8 pound mark. They are a light weight rifle to begin with, with some type of optical sight, usually a red dot sight with back up iron sights. They are all equiped with a sling and some have a weapon mounted white light. We will see short barrel rifles come in much lighter and when we add surpressors they typicaly come in a bit heavier. If you can combine the SBR with suppressor you get the best setup regarding weight.

Of course, you can still use a heavier rifle. You can build up a tolerence to the extra weight and to some extent bring balance to the equation, but always consider if it is a want versus a need.

Rifle Weight & Performance

Lightweight Rifle

A Heavy Rifle Gets Old Fast

Fatigue is a result of mental and physical exertion. It affects us in a variety of ways, but a lightweight rifle will lead to better shooting performance in the long run.

Performance On Demand No Matter How Fatigued

Any type of psychical activity or sport will be taxing on your body. As a culture, we reward those who are better equipped to perform. Being better equipped usually comes in the form of strength, fitness and power. If these traits are in abundance they usually result in a positive outcome. No matter how fit or strong, we are all subject to fatigue. The funny thing about fatigue is how difficult it is to combat. Once you enter that zone, very few remedies outside of rest will truly overcome the negative results. We cannot always stop what we are doing to grab a quick power nap, though naps are great when we can. What we have to do is learn coping strategies that help us perform to standard regardless of our mental or physical state.

When Cognitive Functions Goes

Porting a rifle for two days is fatiguing. There is no way to get around the fact carrying and shouldering a ten pound plus weight takes it’s toll when immersed in a class format. Most students want to do the very best they can in class, learn as much as they can. When fatigue sets in, it will require more effort to fight the negative effects. I find before the body goes, the mind and in this case the cognitive function starts waning. You can stay hydrated, eat well and even rest before the class all of which are proven strategies. They still cannot do much when you are in such a high deficit because you are physically exerting yourself.

Streamline Down To The Lightest Possible

Lifestyle choices and genetics play a big role in fatigue. When we are operating at peak conditions we are able to stave off the effects somewhat. So, what can you do to mitigate the effects when you’ve done all you can do or are limited in what you can do. The single greatest suggestion is to come to class with the lightest rifle possible. Streamline it down to what you absolutely need for the class. While it might seem like a good idea to “train like you fight”. If the weight of the extra gear causes you to fatigue sooner or quicker then it is less than ideal. Instead, consider the objective of the class. In this case, to improve your shooting performance with a rifle from zero to fifty yards in day time hours from a static position. If I were new to the art of rifle shooting, I’d get the lightest rifle that meets those objectives.

Lightweight rifle for better performanceLight Is Right

Nothing is free. There is always a cost associated with our choices. I talk about pro’s & con’s a lot in our classes. Yes, you may get some perceived advantage by selecting a certain piece of gear, but at what cost. If I had to detail the ideal rifle for a basic or intermediate class, I would start with a lightweight rifle below 8.5 pound for better shooting performance. Obviously, lighter would be better, but again nothing is free. The lighter rifle will produce more pronounced recoil impulse. You have to work harder for your shot to shot recovery time. Again, you will pay the man in some way. If you can keep your rifle to below 8.5 pounds and still have all the equipment you need for the class then you are stacking the deck in your favor. You may not appreciate your decision early in the morning on day one, but I promise you when it comes time to perform at the end of the class you will have the best chance for success.

It has always been my goal to use the lightest gear possible to complete the mission. Whether you like to admit it or not, it does make a difference.

The Ultimate Rifle Is Simple

Lightweight rifle for better performance

Keeping Your Rifle Simple Is The Goal

The hardest thing anyone can do is separate their wants from their needs. You may want a general purpose rifle with all the latest technology, but do you need the gear more than the skill.

Skill Trumps Gear

Don’t get me wrong, if your are reaching the upper limits of your skill development and looking to squeeze out the tiniest advantage you are probably well ahead of the pack. But there is no replacing skill with a piece of equipment. You may want that pretty, shiny or new thing, but need is probably not accurate. At some point you will have to define the mission, what is the purpose of the rifle. For the vast majority of utility, a general purpose rifle is hands down going to meet your mission needs. The problem is how do we define a general purpose rifle, how does it look. You can start by laying out some generalities. Such as you want your rifle to be accurate, reliable, modular, ergonomic and light weight. From there, we get into the weeds.

Offensive Or Defensive Roles for the Rifle

Shooting a general purpose rifle

In the past, we use to define the rifle into offense or defensive roles. Offense was typically reserved for law enforcement and military personnel. That left defense for the every day citizen. I still believe this is true, the rifle will more than likely be used in a defensive nature, not offensive. A general purpose rifle is one that could perform in either of those roles and the biggest characteristic would be barrel length. I could talk about barrels all day long. To me, they are the heart of the rifle. I break rifle barrels into three lengths, short barrel, general purpose and long range. Long range will typically be 18″ or greater to squeeze out as much performance. Not ideal for close quarters movement. Short barrel will be anything under the legal length. While ideal for close quarters, they are difficult and expensive to obtain. Just remember the rifle does you no good while it sits waiting for the government’s permission. That leaves us with the general purpose barrels; which are 14.5″ with permanently attached flash hider to 16″. Short enough to do work, easy to obtain.

The Barrel Is The Heart Of The Rifle

My recommendation is to go with a 1:7 twist rate and a 5.56mm chamber. There is a lot of details in those characteristics so I will leave them for another time. Suffice it to say, they will provide you with the best all around performance. As for a flash hider, the standard A2 bird cage is more than adequate. The recoil impulse for a 5.56mm round is negligible. It is there, but technique and strength are your friends. Nothing will make up for poor technique and if you cannot hold the rifle steady for the time required you might have bigger issues.

Accuracy Is An Advantage

After the barrel we talk about the ability to accept modern day optics. With just about everyone producing a flat top receiver there really isn’t reason you can’t use some form of optic. The question is what kind. Do you go with a red dot or a low powered variable optic. Again, what is the rifle’s mission. Yes, I might want to be able to hit at extended ranges. Is it justified, legally and morally. About the only time I can get on board is if you intend on using the rifle for hunting purposes. If so, you will probably want a magnified optic of some kind, but more importantly is the caliber. You will probably not be using 5.56mm so that opens up another can of worms. The use of red dots is by far the most popular and also a low barrier to entry price point wise.

Know The Law

Adjustable stock and modularity are often overlooked characteristics. Like the flat top receiver taking advantage of the various attachment systems allow me to utilize other accessories such as lights. I believe a good general purpose rifle will need a light weight white light. No matter the lighting conditions, you are responsible for the terminal resting place of every round fired. Being able to identify a threat is your first order of business. Does a variable optic help with this…it depends. If you mount the rifle to utilize the optic to identify a threat whether near or far how is that different than using a weapon mounted light on a pistol to direct traffic. Not to mention the legalities of pointing a firearm whether loaded or not. Brandishing can ride a thin line of deadly conduct. If the victim feels you intended to cause fear or alarm you have a problem. Since we all come in different sizes, the ability to adjust my length of pull to my body type is a great advantage.

Keep Your Rifle Light

Of all the characteristics one of the often overlooked is lightweight. This rifle should remain as light as possible to increase shooter performance. You decrease shooter performance when fatigue interferes with your ability to stabilize for the shot required. The longer I have to support the rifle with my muscles, the faster fatigue becomes a factor. The greater the fatigue greater the wobble zone. When your wobble zone becomes so great the results is a decrease in accuracy. The rifle weighs around seven pounds with no accessories and the goal is to keep it below ten pounds, nine pounds is better. Where we see a conflict is when the shooter wants to add every piece of equipment under the sun. Anything you add to the rifle must be weighed, literally and theoretically to see if the juice is worth the squeeze. This is a game of ounces so know exactly what your rifle weights out of the box and each piece of gear you add.

The idea of a general purpose rifle is not new. What is new is technology and accessories that allow me to exploit every advantage I can out of a general purpose rifle.

To Magnify or Not to Magnify

There is much we don’t know about the recent murders by an evil doer in Las Vegas. What we do know is there is a lot of chatter about updating patrol rifles with magnified optics.

Pushing boundaries

Revisiting your equipment is never a bad thing. Reviewing your mission requirements to ensure you are equipped and prepared is an ongoing process. The one caveat to remember is there is no substitute for skill. You can upgrade to the best magnified optic available, but if you fail to train it won’t help your mission. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for exploiting the advantages many pieces of gear offer us. They can be game changers most of the time and pure fight stoppers in a few. You have to be honest with yourself, your current skill and your real mission. I’m fine if you want to push boundaries, but don’t tell me you are doing this because it is a new mission requirement.

Managing the unknown

Let’s face it, there are all but a handful of people trained to engage an elevated target at distance, with the right equipment at the right time. The immediate knee jerk reaction is to outfit the troops with magnified optics to manage possible future threats. Are these types of threats going to be more common, unfortunately there is a chance we will see more thanks to the “love” our media gives these sociopaths. The real question is does the remote possibility trigger hundreds or even thousands of dollars expended on such a low likely scenario. Regardless of how horrific the scenario it is not a hardware solution.

Force projection

Magnified optics can be a force multiplier, they can enhance your ability to accomplish your mission. When you have the luxury of stabilizing your shooting platform to minimize sight disruption your hit ratio improves. Having run dozens of mid-range marksmanship classes I have seen this first hand. The increased hit ratio equals increased lethality at distance. I’m all for increasing lethality on the battlefield, by extending the range to target I can accurately impose effective fire means I am increasing my control over my battle space. This mission requirement is not without it’s downside; training and equipment.

Easy to hard

A low powered variable optic capable of being used at both close and mid range has been elusive. Most that do it well are cost prohibitive and those more affordable typically perform on par with their cost. My whole point is to encourage individuals and departments to clearly define their mission. Then identify the best equipment you can afford to achieve mission success. Purchasing the equipment is the easy part, investing in quality instruction on it’s use and employment is where the rubber meets the road. I love seeing folks push their limits, to take their skills to the next level. You should never get comfortable or complacent, but a knee jerk reaction is hardly the best initiator.

Remember your time and resources are limited, make sure you’re allocating them in the best way to support your mission. Reviewing tactics, techniques and procedures is a constant process, it is the only constant we have in this world to be honest.

 

Don’t Do Stupid, Just Don’t

Recently I questioned why a student was hitting low on the target. It was below a mechanical offset issue so it got my attention fast. The answer may surprise you, but it only pisses me off.

Broad shoulders

They were taught this by their instructor in order to hit below body armor. Say what??? My problem is not with the student, my problem rest squarely on the instructors who would teach this or other asinine techniques. As instructors it is incumbent on us to ensure the information we share is sound and relative. These were not even pelvic girdle shots; these were just shots to the abdomen to get the rounds under the armor. The only good news was the instructor gave their “why” for teaching the students this technique so I can see how it may seem plausible to a novice student or new shooter. Again, let me be clear; it is not their fault.

Hot knife through butter

Let’s look at this more closely. The shooting drills were with M4/AR15 type rifles firing within 25 yards. At these ranges your rounds are going to fly through soft armor almost as if it isn’t there. But, is there a chance it won’t penetrate hard armor. While I acknowledge this fact, I would then reply who am I shooting. Because the only consistent demographic who employs rifle rated hard armor plates are good guys. That’s right, the folks who wear armor for a living because it is their job. So, why would an instructor teach this to a student?

Is a mobility kill good enough

Maybe the bad guys could employ rifle rated hard armor and maybe a shot intentionally aimed low may miss the armor. The very best you could hope for is a mobility kill. But here is the deal, that is still a pipe dream. Aiming low for a mobility kill still requires you to aim, and if you are staring down an armed suspected employing hard armor and that is the best you got, you are in a world of hurt. I have to assume this is the reason the instructor justified his tactics. They wanted their students to imagine facing down a domestic terrorist hell bent on a mass killing spree. I get that too, but you better bring more to the fight than a low aimed shot.

Rapid and repeated

If this was the true justification I would still have problems, it doesn’t stop the fight. It merely limits their movement and even then there are no guarantees. Instead, they should have been taught reduced targets; aiming for the brain and/or brain stem to produce an immediate incapacitation. These new students or novice shooters are not good enough to make those hits under stress. Why would you waste their time, their resources and create a false sense of security. Time should have been allocated at delivering rapid, repeated rounds to the largest target zone available until a better target zone becomes available. The operative words there were “rapid & repeated”. Pushing to deliver effective fire as quickly as possible to neutralize the threat should be the prime directive.

Responsibility lies squarely on the instructor’s shoulder. The student is trusting you to deliver realistic and effective instruction.

Head Shots

With suicide bombings taking place worldwide how prepared are you when it comes to taking a high percentage shot. How good of a shot are you when it counts the most.

Good enough

After a terrorist attack a few things come to mind; are you good enough to make a head shot? While I’m speaking mainly to our domestic law enforcement I would extend this question to anyone who finds themselves in harms way. Years ago I was asked about the effectiveness of a head shot from a pistol. No doubt, they will produce a result. The question we all wonder is it the result we are looking for; immediate incapacitation.

It is a come as you are war

Head shots with a rifle tend to be more favorable for lots of reasons, but the reality is you probably won’t have a rifle with you so let’s just put that to bed right now. You will be forced to respond with a pistol; whether from your duty belt or concealed carry. After all, the main reason we carry a pistol is for convenience first, lethality second. There will be several different strategies floating around the internet on how to deal with this type of situation, but immediately incapacitating the threat is your tactical imperative.

Welcome to the nightmare

If you fail to immediately incapacitate, you may find they still have the ability to depress a button most likely taped to their hand so as not to be dropped or taken. If you look at some recent bombings you will notice how they wore gloves thus concealing the switch mechanisms even further, but more importantly making it inaccessible to a bystander. So, if you fail to immediately incapacitate it makes sense to consider they are still combat effective. In this case, combat effective implies capable of depressing the switch possibly taped to their hand and concealed with a glove.

What if

So, “what if” you find yourself in this situation? How far can you guarantee a head shot? I love hearing  folks comment on their abilities to make this shot at 25 yards easily. Well, to generate the immediate incapacitation we are looking for it means the target is smaller than the head itself. Basically you are looking at the base of the brainstem or about a four inch target. Now, how far can guarantee that hit? I feel it is safe to say 10 yards. That’s right, a measly ten yards from an explosive devise. While you may want to be much further away, outside the blast radius, your skill may prevent that luxury. In addition, while I comment on a head shot in the singular tense, I would want to place several rounds into the target zone increasing my chances of neutralizing the threat.

Don’t kid yourself

All of this places a high demand on the shooter, probably higher than you can ever imagine. If you fail to incapacitate and they detonate the bomb you may be responsible for countless lives loss. Though that may be an eventuality you cannot control, it would suck to know they depressed the switch after your failed attempt. My point, if you haven’t been practicing for reduced targets at extended ranges then don’t kid yourself. All these techniques you see out there that circumvent marksmanship principles will be of little use in this situation. Does it warrant a change to your training philosophy, maybe. It means accept reality and either go with it or do something different.

Realistic expectations

One final thought, target discrimination. Yes, that pesky notion of positively identifying the threat and in this case a suicide bomber. Some photographs show bulky clothing being worn, would that rouse suspicion alone? How would you know they are a suicide bomber? Have you been studying available information regarding mannerisms and appearances and if so is that enough to justify your head shot? This is an incredibly challenging incident and one we better start preparing for or at the very least discussing from a realistic capability standpoint.

To my friends in blue, train hard and be ready. That is all.

Move It or Loose It

I’m sure we have all heard the phrase, “shoot, move and communicate” before. How hard do you train for the “move” component to this philosophy.

Bubble bursting time

The ability to deliver effective fire while on the move or in motion is a critical skill. While it would be nice to have ideal range conditions for any incident, the reality is far from a static condition. In fact, the training hierarchy has a disproportionate amount of rounds fired in training from a static condition. There are four levels of training we all need to go through, each one requiring proficiency if not mastery before ascending. The first level is static, both the shooter and target are stationary. The second level is the shooter is active, the target is stationary. The third level has the shooter stationary and the target active. The fourth and final level has both the shooter and target active. When you think of this training hierarchy, think of a pyramid where level one is on the bottom. As you ascend up the pyramid, the volume is reduced until at the very top were we have fourth level conditions, we spend an infinitesimal amount of our training time and resources. However, the realities of a gunfight will more than likely have one if not both parties active. If you aren’t scratching your head by now, cue the dumbfounded look.

First, best sight picture

It does take effort and commitment to develop proficiency, it is even more perishable. However, it is not the moving part that is “hard” it is the ability to place a round on target while moving. Here is another scared cow we will slay, if you are moving so slow so as to have minimal disruption to your sights you are not moving realistically. The key here is going to be to focus on your “first, best sight picture”. The moment your sight settles on the target zone you will have a window of opportunity to break the shot. In order to be successful, you need above average trigger management skills.

Reverse engineering

Let’s jump ahead real quick. I don’t care what you have been taught, if your shooting platform wasn’t designed from the beginning with movement in mind you will be in for a rude awakening. You will be hard pressed to take a static stance, the ones we see most on the range and get it to move. We recognize the realities and have reversed engineered the shooting platform so it supports movement first, we just tend to shoot static more often. The moment we go active, the benefits to this philosophy come to the surface in a big way. So, I don’t care what you have been taught, they all suck because they either are teaching you to move artificially (slow) or an attempt to teach you a tempo (timing) of your shot. None of this is realistic.

The tactical imperative

There is a lot more to movement than I care to cover in a finite blog, but what I will say is trigger management is the key to delivering effective fire; whether you are standing still or in motion. Yet, for some reason when we start talking about movement we become brain-dead and think it has to do with our ability to move. The reality is you may have to hustle and once you reach a certain speed you will have to acknowledge you will not get the hit and waste your ammunition. This is where the tactical imperative is easily defined. You will need to choose because you will not be effective at both. Choose which is the most important at that exact moment. If it is more important to move, then high port and haul ass. If it is more important to shoot, then stop plant and engage the target.

This is why it is a Thinking Man’s Game, there are no free lunches. Focus on trigger management and not how your lower unit moves.

Trident Concepts
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