I always get a little frustrated with myself writing these things up, because I seem to spend more time talking about guns and gear than what was actually taught. But it is hard to convey in text what is easily demonstrated in person. It is also difficult to completely relay the sheer volume of information that you get from two days spent making mistakes, watching other people make mistakes, getting those mistakes corrected, and just plain doing things with your rifle and war gear all weekend.
But I’ll give it a try.
Background: This class was put on by Defensive Concepts of North Carolina at the Trigger Time Valley Range, which is an awesome facility and downright civilized. This is my 3rd shooting class with these guys, and I don’t keep coming back because they’re nice to me. I have previously taken their shotgun and pistol classes.
The instructors are all ex-military, and one is a cop with a very large metro NC police department. Two are former Tactical Response instructors, and interestingly enough, two are lefties.
The students were, surprisingly, all Ordinary Citizens(tm), no LE or current .mil. Two were ex-military. Most students were in reasonable physical shape, me and another guy made up the fatty brigade. Most students were shooting rail farm ARs with electrical sights and forward grips. We had one AK guy, and I was shooting a bare AR with A1 sights. Oh, crap, I’m talking about guns ‘n gear again! Moving on…
Day 1: We arrived at the range just as TS Hanna started blowing through, so we started in the shoot house instead of the outdoor range. The instructors cleared away the props so we had a good 15 yard range under shelter. We started off with a safety lecture and some introductions.
One of the things they emphasized early on is that they run a hot range. Unless the gun is to be left outside your control for a while, it remains loaded and chambered. This went for both rifles and pistols. Certain fruit-based disciplines might catch the vapors at this idea, claiming that letting a bunch of guys walk around with loaded rifles and pistols is OMG! UNSAFE! but fuck that. We are all adults and it was nice to be treated as such. Nothing emphasizes rule 1 like actually living it. I only witnessed one unsafe moment during class when a student was careless with his muzzle direction while running with his rifle slung, and those who noticed it quietly pointed it out to him when the drill was over, and it wasn’t repeated.
We began shooting at 7 yards, and this immediately demonstrated to us the problem of close range sight offset. The sight plane on a common AR or AK is a good 2″ above the barrel bore line. When most people shoot their ARs, they do so at targets 25 yards away or further, and this isn’t an issue. But get into conversational range, and if you aim at someone’s head, you’ll hit them in the neck. We got used to aiming a couple inches above what we wanted to hit. Then moved back to 15 yards, and everybody hit high. This was intentional abuse from the instructors, and reinforced keeping in mind your ranges.
We moved back and forth between the 7 and 15 yard line while the rain kept falling, shooting various patterns on command, such as controlled pairs, hammers, failure drill, and the dreaded “Non standard response”, which is a $5 tacticool phrase meaning “Fill it full of holes FAST!”
We were shooting at the “Riposte-1″ target which broadly resembles the old IPSC target with a compressed torso A-zone. The instructors took this one step further and said that only hits in the upper half of the A-zone would count as a body hit, and only hits in the 1×3″ ocular box area would count as a head hit. If we missed getting a hit in those areas, we were required to keep shooting until we produced it. Accuracy was heavily stressed from the very beginning and constantly repeated.
Administrative, tactical and emergency reloads were then evolved in. Once again I was relieved that they were not religious about any one particular method, as long as you give it an honest shot their way first. In particular, I have never been able to really do the “two mags in the hand” tactical reload. I understand the thinking on it, to get a fully charged weapon as soon as possible. However, the way I see it, if I have the time to reload at my leisure, then I’ve got the time to do it methodically and do a chamber check. One of the instructors pointed out that even if you drop the partial, it’s still not as bad an outcome as getting caught with an empty gun. Thinking on it, I believe that only handling one mag at a time reduces the odds of me dropping either of them, and I’ll continue making a hole and filling a hole.
This gave the opportunity to teach about properly seating the magazine, especially after a few students chambered air and sent a few magazines tumbling to the ground. The AR is a military rifle, don’t baby it. Smack that sucker then tug it to make sure! Even though those who failed to properly smack and tug their mags were ridden hard by the instructors, we had droppers all weekend. Also, the AK design doesn’t avoid this. The AK guy chambered air more than a few times. The great thing about an AK is that you can fully practice your reloads at home with an empty rifle and empty mags. Do it!
Speaking of mags on the ground, DCNC also drummed into us to discard our empty mags. For the vast majority of situations that I could see myself in, this would probably be fine and spare the shooter some valuable time. But if things are so bad that I’m running around with a rifle and multiple mags on my body, maybe FedEx won’t be delivering for a while. I think I’ll be adding a dump pouch to my setup.
The shot timer then made an appearance and we were each timed on shooting one round from sul, then two rounds from sul. The times were very close and the lesson was hammered home: the longest part of the engagement is getting the sights on the target, and this is where the most cheap gains can be had. And it’s something you can practice at home.
At about 10:30 the rain stopped, so we took a break to move our stuff to the 50 yard range and get set up there. We started at the 25 yard line by verifying our zeroes from prone. What I thought was a good 50 yard zero in a poorly lit indoor range off the bench (about an inch and a half low at 25) turned out to be about 4″ low at 25 in bright sunlight from prone! If you’re running iron sights as your primary sighting system, check your zero under different lighting conditions and positions, I guess. It took us a few iterations to get everybody happy, then we moved on to different positions.
I had forgotten my knee pads and gloves at home, and while I hadn’t missed my gloves up to that point, I was dreading the kneeling and prone portions which came after lunch. Fortunately, the rain had turned the sand under the gravel soft, which was rather comfortable after you brushed some of the gravel away. Anyway, we incorporated going down to kneeling or prone in the shooting command, then coming back up. Let me tell you, a dozen repetitions of that kicked my ass. Every time I do one of these classes I swear I’ll get into better shape. Maybe this time I’ll actually do it!
Another drill that wore me out but I liked a lot was the Navy drill. Starting from standing at low ready, with 3 magazines loaded with 5 rounds, shoot 5 rounds from standing, reload and shoot 5 rounds from kneeling, then reload and shoot 5 rounds from prone. We shot that a few times to reinforce the positions, then moved on.
Then we started incorporating a post-shoot scan and reload into every shooting command, completing the FAST acronym of the Wyatt protocol. Breaking out of tunnel vision and examining the world behind you is a very important habit to get into. Also, the numerous reloads required the students to become acquainted with all of their mag pouch locations. I’ll make a separate post on guns and gear I think, but I did note that a few guys’ rigs got progressively less encumbered as the weekend wore on.
At this point, we took a break to allow the inventor of a new gas piston AR demo his design to us. I would do another post on it, but I’m not really that knowledgeable about the whole gas piston AR scene, and I only fired one mag through a prototype and took it apart, which really isn’t enough to formulate a useful opinion. But my useless opinion is that it looks like a simple, well thought out design, but will go absolutely nowhere until a major manufacturer gets behind it. It also will only be available as a rail farm upper, as the system isn’t compatible with comfortable hand guards.
We started on malfunction clearance afterwards, and the suck came out to play. Several times we set up a type 1, 2 or 3 malfunction (failure to fire, failure to extract, double feed) in our rifles and had to clear it under time pressure. Let me say for the record that trying to clear a type 3 malfunction in an AR while danger is close by is supreme folly. Throw your gun at the target and either hoof it or get your pistol out. Maybe both.
This is where we had the first firearm casualty of the day, as a shooter managed to break his CAR stock in two while banging it on the ground trying to get a stuck case out of the chamber. Fortunately, another student brought a spare rifle and donated his Magpul stock to the cause.
The next drill was something the instructors lovingly called “fuck up your buddy”. We set up a random malfunction in our rifle, grounded them on the 15 yard line, went back to the 50 yard line, then at the shoot command, had to run to another guy’s rifle, clear the jam, and engage the target. I was particularly proud of one malfunction I set up, where I rubbed enough mud in the magwell to hold the mag in place without it being latched. And sure enough, it dropped out as soon as the guy thought he had it fixed. Oh, and I knocked two guys over to get to the SBR’d AR with an Eotech.
To wrap up the first day, we grounded our carbines and went over to the steel plates to warm up with our pistols. I was so damn tired and sore that I was pleased I could ding the steel at all, but a 1911 guy won the shootoff and he was pretty goddamn smug about it. But I’d be pretty smug too if I could afford a $2k sidearm.
We closed for business at about 6pm, and I drove to my hotel room with my back aching and legs burning, but in a good way. I had a shower, ate some dinner, cleaned my AR and was asleep by 9:30.