Monday, May 25, 2015

Commentary - Memorial Day . . . Simple Men


A number of years ago I found myself sitting in one of the front rows of a church listening to my son-in-law deliver the Eulogy for his dad. The heart of the eulogy was that Richard had been a “simple man” – loving father, devoted husband, good friend, a union welder. Just a rock solid man . . . someone that was exactly what you saw.

Jeremy’s eulogy came to mind as I mulled over some thoughts for Memorial Day and the over 1.3 million soldiers that have lost their lives in the service of their country.

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

With slight exceptions between enlisted and officer, they all begin with an oath. It is a solemn promise to the nation that they will lay down their life if necessary to protect her. Those that have done so are honored today.

Most served quietly – those that are remembered in life by their families and in death by stone. Few attain lasting fame . . . all were simple men who chose to take up arms and face evil.

The line begins with these five . . . Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr . . . killed at the Boston Massacre. The first in a red line that stretches to this day.

We’ve all watched film of “dough boys” going “over the top” during the gruesome battles of WWI. The raw courage is breathtaking. The majority of those men in the film are simply lost to history yet we would not be the world we are today without them, without their willing sacrifice.

Likewise I am humbled by the soldiers of WWII storming the Normandy beaches from landing craft faced by withering fire. Many died without touching shore. More died on the beaches. Yet all were needed to bring an end to a monstrous regime.

Battlefield footage of Korea is yet another example of the resolve of the American fighting man. Places like the Chosin Reservoir, Yalu River, Pusan provide stark reminders of the heart of America’s best.

Vietnam brought a different take on the American soldier – a willingness to serve regardless of the hearts of some Americans. As protests raged across our country the soldier did their job and we left over 55,000 on the battlefield.

Today we are engaged in a Global War On Terror. We have again left thousands of good men and women to move on to meet their maker. And we remember simple men true to an oath and willing to give their life that others may live . . . and be free.

I pray with all my heart that we do not forget this . . . that freedom against evil will always be paid in blood and sacrifice . . . and that our nation will always have simple men, simple women willing to step up.

To absent comrades . . . Hear, Hear!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Just the Basics - The 10 Yard - 50 Yard Zero


So I’m chatting with Ernie, a fellow trainer and the owner of a well-known gun shop in my area. I’m asking him if he’d had any cancelations in the CFS Carbine course he had scheduled the second week in June with Rob Pincus. He hadn’t but he asked . . . “Did you sign up for the course on the 6th, I’m sure there’s room.” I replied I didn’t even know he’d scheduled another class so he tapped away on his computer, confirmed that there was still room . . . with one less seat once I returned home and plopped down my credit card for the online registration. Cool! And . . . crap!

I never take coursework without taking a full set of backup gear along. The old “two is one, one is none” routine. I needed another carbine. Over the winter I’d picked up a Bushmaster upper, a DPMS lower kit to go with a lower I had tucked away in the safe. My plan was to find time to build it to be ready to go in the spring. But, since the CFS course had filled within days, and I “knew” I didn’t have a seat . . . I dragged my feet. Now, I had a seat but no second carbine and just no time to build it. Heavy sigh.

So, back to my local gun guy who I’d bought all the parts from. He had a nice Bushmaster on the wall so I asked him to take what I had in on trade – make if fair to him – and I’d be in after lunch the following day. A funny thing happened over the previous evening. It seemed as though the “shoemaker’s elves” had shown up and assembled my parts into a brand new carbine. Cool. I’d added a quad rail and a set of MAGPUL flip-up backup sights. I was ready to roll! All that was left was a trip to the range to zero it in.

I’ve made it no secret that I’m well within the age of “old fartdom” and have grown up with the 25 Yard AR target to zero in my carbine. In fact I did a post on that a quite some time back. However, keep in mind that this is carbine to be used for personal defense. That would imply that the vast majority of shots would more than likely be done within 50 yards or less. So, if I zeroed it for 50 yards . . . and paid attention to the ballistics chart . . . I’d probably be covered for everything from 50 to 200 yards.

In fact, the work had already been done for me by Frank Proctor of “The Way of the Gun”. He had come up with a method to zero an AR at both 50 yards and 200 yards . . . with a target placed just 10 yards away. COOL!! Take some time – follow the link – watch the video. I suspect you’ll find as I did, it’s quicker, dead on and holds for virtually all distances you’ll likely need for personal defense or most competitive shooting.

As with everything, the “tale of the tape” provides quick proof of concept . . . or throws the process on the ash heap. So off to the range I went with the 10 Yard target as well as a 50 yard target and a standard 100 yard target for good measure.

Here’s what my backup carbine looks like. As you can see, it’s nothing fancy. I’m just using the iron sights today – I’m not going to pull my Eotech from my primary unless I have a solid weapon failure and need to go to the backup. So, all targets shown will be iron sights only.

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I set up a target at 10 yards, load 3 rounds in a magazine and send them down range. Elevation is spot on . . . Windage is far right. After a few more groups of three, and cranking the rear sight all the frickin’ way to the left, I had an acceptable group shown in the circle. (It turns out this is fairly common with the common problem being the front post being canted. I’ll work on it before the class.)

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The process is interesting. Your POA is the dark circle. Your POI that you adjust for is the grey circle 1.9” below the dark circle. Ballistics of a 55gr .223 bullet. And, at 10 yards I could see the POI clearly without a spotting scope or binoculars. Very nice!

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Next is a 3 round verification group at 50 yards. So off I go, hang the target and send 3 rounds down range. With very happy results – 1.5”-ish size group well centered. I’ll take it. I follow that with another 15 rounds to see if everything is holding. The result is also satisfying holding a 4.25” x 2” group. Again, I’ll take it. Off to 100 Yards.

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Remember, with a 50 Yard zero, you will see a couple inch rise at 100 yards followed by a return to zero at 200 yards. We do not have a 200 yard range so I’ll be content with my 100 yard result. With a magazine loaded with 15 rounds I begin a slow fire doing my best to be purposeful and deliberate with each of the 15 rounds. Again, the results are satisfying. The group is a bit high – as I expected. And, it is still a bit right but considering I’d run the rear sight all the way to the left, not surprised I’m a bit right of center. I have 12 in a nice fist sized group, 2 a bit low and 1 flyer . . . again I’ll take it.

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Bottom line? I found this zero method to be very efficient and very effective. I suspect it will become by go-to process from now on.

Give it a try! Many thanks to Frank Proctor for all his work and his willingness to share this process with all of us . . . it’s a winner!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Training – the best 3 - 5 seconds you’ll spend on your training session


Hopefully by now you have caught on that I separate “coursework” from “training”. When you take coursework you work with an instructor who is teaching you their particular POV of handling your defensive weapon. But, the time they spend with you is far too short to do any type of training that will permanently cement itself in your use of that defensive weapon outside of the coursework. That is left for your trainer to do . . .

Your primary trainer is that person who goes on every range trip with you, who lays out what you will work on that day, defines the course of fire for the day, chooses the weapon you will work on, insures you have a working gun, proper range wear and picks the time and place on the range when you will do your training . . .

In other words, your primary trainer is the person you see every day when you look in the mirror . . . you!

I’ve chatted in the past about individual increments of what you need to do on the range – from defining exactly what you are going to work on to some suggestions for specific drills. Today I want to spend a bit of time on what I consider one of the most critical periods of time for you as a student/trainer during the shooting of a drill . . . the 3-5 seconds immediately after the completion of a string of fire.

Have you ever watched the “tacticool” approach after a string of fire is done? The shooter snaps back to the high compressed ready, low ready or a sul position and does a scan and assess IMMEDIATELY after the string of fire is complete. I have no issue with the scan and assess – I do that myself. Where I quibble is the quickness with which many shooters abandon looking at the downed threat and move into a scan and assess. From a practical POV it’s wise to focus of the threat long enough to insure they are well and truly down or are no longer an immediate threat to your life. Make sure the immediate threat is resolved first . . . then check your six.

But, past that when you are doing your monthly training session – I would encourage you to hold your final position after the last round in the string is fired and evaluate your string and yourself before you move back into a high compressed ready, low ready or sul position. This is the 3 – 5 seconds that I believe will be some of the best time you spend during your training trips to the range. So what would you evaluate?

First, how about your grip? Did it remain solid or did you notice you readjusted your grip when your string was done?

How about your stance? How did your feet end up when you planted to shoot? Did that work for you? Was it a stable platform?

Check your sight alignment, sight picture. If the threat jumped up RIGHT NOW . . . would your first shot be effective?

What about your overall body position? Is it aggressive, over the balls of your feet? Is it solid? Are you ready for the next shot should it be needed?

How did the string feel? Did you have a solid sight picture for every round you sent down range or did you just press the trigger and hope for the best?

Move your focus forward and look at the target . . . how were the hits in your string?

This time . . . this little 3-5 second window can give you a solid look at your shooting performance on a string by string basis. And, since you are the trainer, you are the one pushing on yourself to do better, be more accurate, be faster . . . take some time to evaluate yourself with just a little added pause – just 3-5 seconds – at the end of each string evaluate yourself. Notice what you did well – that will help reinforce it over time. And, look at what you could have done better . . . then do better.

One other suggestion – take a look at a camera you can mount to your ear protection, your ball cap or just have a friend shoot some video of you running a handful of drills. Raw video can be just that . . . raw . . . but no one ever said becoming a better shooter was easy. Watch yourself, make notes, critique your performance. It takes work to become a better shooter. . . and sometimes just a short 3 – 5 seconds can tell you a lot!

Remember – YOU are your primary trainer, make sure you’re doing your job!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Training - Focus!


The work world intrudes on my evening . . . it’s Christian on the phone . . . payroll is coming . . . data has been lost . . . and folks are more than a little frustrated . . .

Christian: Bill, it happened again. Everything is gone for the 5th and 6th. I need to know what’s going on!!

Yep, I get it. Last time, after a new install, some settings on the operating system had been messed up causing intermittent data loss. We found them, fixed them . . . the world was good. Until tonight . . .

Me: Everything?? No data at all??

Christian: Well, at least for department 12 – nothing, zero, zip!

When things go off the rails the primary need at that instant is to FOCUS on what is really wrong and not what someone thinks/believes/”sees” as wrong. I use the “rule of 3” (yep, there’s one for trouble shooting software too!) I have them pick just 3 employees that aren’t coming out the way they should, drill down, find the issues and . . . the rest usually fall in line. Unfortunately Christian doesn’t know the employee number of 3 folks . . . but he does know the department number that has nothing showing . . . 12. So, I punch into his server, fire up the management software and bring up an edit function. I punch in the department number and pull up . . . a full screen of data . . . that’s supposed to be missing. I bracket the date going one day earlier and later . . . full days. I pull up the entire pay period for department 12 . . . all days are full . . . with a consistent pattern of attendance . . . there is no problem . . . no missing data . . .

Christian: Well, it all looks OK, nothing is missing. They must have been frustrated and just put in some wrong data . . .

Which brings me to the primary point of this post . . . fixing problems is about FOCUS! You simply must set aside the temptation to think EVERYTHING IS SCREWED UP, narrow your “vision” and focus on the little things. That is how you fix bigger issues, by resolving small ones first - be it resolving a software issue . . . or a shooting issue.

Today was Dot Torture day. I’d promised myself I would do this the first week of every month so after receiving a load of rock for the range I headed to the pistol range to shoot the drill. You’d think by now I’d just throw up the target, shoot 50/50 and walk away hardly being able to wait to post my “perfect” target. Yep, you’d think that. But there always seems to be things to work on as my latest efforts will point out.

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Circle 1 is 5 rounds, slow fire. I gotta tell ya, it’s still difficult for me not to “prairie dog” my shots just to see how I did. And, since there is no holstering between rounds this is the “dot” that shows if you rush through your follow through. Obvious things to work on here. It’s a reasonable group, all within/touching the circle so I’m not down any – but it could certainly be better.

Circle 2 is what you want to see. One round per draw, some over lapping holes and all well within the circle. From the holster I had this solid.

Circles 3 & 4 were the same. One round on each from the draw. Again, very happy here with the exception of a “squeeker” on 3 – I will take this one.

Circle 5 shows no improvement. Heavy Sigh. 5 rounds dominant hand only. Same as last time. Honestly I think the culprit here is simply overall arm strength which I am working on.

Circles 6 & 7 also are a pretty good showing. From the draw – 2 rounds on 6 then 2 rounds on 7, repeat 4 times. 16 rounds total. Solid groups with the exception of a flyer on 7. This reinforces last month’s focus on DELIBERATE shooting.

Circle 8 is 5 rounds slow fire support hand only. My performance was worse this time. Again I believe this can be resolved by better arm strength which I am working on.

Circle 9 and 10 is two magazines with 1 round each. Shoot 9, go to slide lock, emergency reload, shoot 10, repeat 3 times. I am also happy with this part of the drill. Good groups – I’ll take it

So, how does FOCUS fit into this run at the drill? Well first I could bang on myself for the down 4. And I do growl at myself quite a bit, I admit that. But where I need to place my focus is on Circle 1, Circle 5 and Circle 8. These show I need to focus on my sight picture, work on my follow through and slow my shots a fraction. They also so my weakness as of today is single handed shooting. I will be interested to see how my shooting improves as my arm strength increases. Monthly target sets should show that. We’ll see how that goes.

As for the rest of the target it shows that much of my foundation is solid. Those requiring a draw from a holster between each engagement are solid. You can always work to tighten groups, but with the “hit” parameter being inside or touching the outline the performance is solid.

So taking all of this into account – I can FOCUS on my weaknesses and then maintain the foundation of my overall shooting. It lets me know what to work on and what I simply need to maintain. It takes some “heat off” from personalities like mine. As for exactly what kind that is, does ENTJ mean anything to anyone? Yep, that would be me!

For the new shooter – focus allows you identify and work on a single piece of your foundation, get it solid, then move on to the next piece. You DO NOT and CAN NOT fix everything at once! There is NO magic course, NO magic drill and NO magic instructor. Only long hours of learning and work . . . so do the work.

As for other instructors that read my thoughts here – none of us can slack off on polishing and maintain the solid components of our foundation, because they do diminish with lack of use. And we simply must identify and work on those parts of our foundation that “need work”. Again, there are no shortcuts and no magic instructor’s instructor - simply hard work.

Shoot your Dot Torture Drill this month. Analyze the outcome, the “dots”. Determine where you need work, do the work, and polish the rest.

It’s as “simple” and placing the focus where it needs to be.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Training - Are you “Proficient”?


Proficient: well advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge

There was a discussion among a group of trainers the other day regarding methods for determining if new officers were “proficient” with their firearms. It seems as though the focus became centered on their ability to shoot some type of defined “proficiency drill” with their service weapon.

My response revolved around the idea that this was a fairly limited POV and that there were other components to this particular concern as well. Knowledge of their service weapon. Ability to field-strip it, clean it and replace common components that could break (ejectors, firing pins, strikers, springs, etc). Ability to draw and engage a threat quickly and smoothly. And, finally some predefined type of shooting drill.

As is often the case with these types of “conversations” it got me to thinking . . .

As a defensive shooter, someone who had chosen to carry a defensive firearm daily . . .

Am I “proficient”?

All too often I see folks eager to get their carry permit (or whatever your particular state calls it) and they will do the minimum to fill the state requirement . . . and that’s it. It is all too likely that it includes very limited range time, little or no work drawing from concealment and a simple shooting test that demonstrates they can hit a piece of typing paper at 21 feet. And . . . honestly . . . I am OK with that, I am firmly in the “Constitutional Carry” side of the house. That said, I also believe that for a person who carries a defensive handgun as part of their daily routing there are oh so many more things they need to well and truly KNOW . . . that they are “Proficient” in. Let’s chat about that a bit.

Awareness: This topic is a bit of a rabbit hole depending on the instructor you chat with. The NRA preaches Unaware, Aware, Alert and Alarm . . . Cooper has White, Yellow, Orange and Red. The military adds Black to Cooper’s color code. What both are driving towards is a simple question . . . do you know what is going on around you? How about in general? How do things “feel” to you . . . in the country, your state, your county, your city or your neighborhood? As you walk down the street or slow for a traffic signal are you in your own little world subject to the whims of a predator or are you “aware” of your surroundings and paying attention to the things going on around you? Remember . . . the best way to win a gun fight is to not get in one. And your willingness to work on your level of awareness, to engage your surroundings rather than drift through them may well make the difference between seeing a threat and avoiding it or being yet another addition to some crime statistic.

Are you PROFICIENT in your ability to be aware of your surroundings?

Mindset: You’ve chosen to fill the squares to be able to legally carry a defensive handgun. Do you have a mindset that will allow you to actually use it to save your life, to work with it to be able to “run the gun” should things go sideways, to take a life if necessary, to dedicate a portion of your life monthly and annually to train on a range and take coursework in the use of your weapon? Are you serious . . . or playing at it . . .

Are you PROFICIENT in your ability to integrate a new mindset into your lifestyle?

Clothing: While the topic may strike some as odd, if you are going to enter the concealed carry world it will require a change in clothing for most folks. A sturdy gun belt is probably the most overlooked item. Pants a size larger to incorporate an IWB holster. Shirts/jackets that conceal. Sturdy shoes that allow rapid movement should the need arise. Clothing that still “fits in” and avoids the “shoot me first” signature.

Are you PROFICIENT in your concealment?

Gear: Have you selected a holster that fits your lifestyle and your gun? How about magazine carriers, belts, range gear including spare magazines, cleaning kits, range bags, eye protection, ear protection. Have you spent the time and done the research to insure you have equipment that works well together?

Are you PROFICIENT in the selection of your gear?

Your defensive handgun: Does your defensive handgun “fit”? Can you “run your gun”, clear malfunctions, shoot it well, maintain it including cleaning and the replacement of minor components? Do you have a reason you chose that particular handgun? Can you articulate it? Explain its advantages? How about your defensive ammunition? Why did you choose that caliber, that manufacturer, that particular round? Do you know its advantages? Can you articulate them?

Are you PROFICIENT in your knowledge of your handgun?

Can you shoot? : This skill will save your life. Can you draw and engage a threat quickly enough to give you a fighting chance to go home at the end of the day? While this seems to be the “go to” parameter when folks speak about “proficiency” – and it is vital – it is but a single component of the entire mix that is “proficiency” when applied to a defensive shooter. That said, can you draw/move, shoot, get combat effective hits, clear malfunctions and stay in the fight? Do you work at it? Do you set aside a couple hundred (minimum) rounds aside each month for your own personal training?

Are you PROFICIENT in your shooting skill set?

Do you take coursework and follow it up with individual training? Are you growing as a defensive shooter? To you travel to a trainer at least once a year for new coursework? Do your read, take DVD coursework, work with a training partner? Defensive shooting skills diminish over time unless you’re spending individual training time on the range keeping your skills sharp. Yep – it’s time consuming. Yep – it’s pricy. Yep – it can be frustrating. Yet, your life may well depend on your willingness to read, take coursework and hit the range.

Are you PROFICIENT in growing your shooting skills?

Can you keep the red stuff in your body? We are training with tools that can kill us. Have you taken a first aid course? Have you taken a trauma course? Do you carry a blowout kit ON YOUR PERSON when you’re on the range? Shoot yourself in your femoral artery you got about 3 minutes to live . . . unless you have the necessary skills to save your life or that of a training partner.

Are you PROFICIENT in the use of first aid and the equipment necessary to keep the red stuff in your body?

Have you taken some type of “after a shooting” training? If I put out the letters AOJP . . . do you have some idea what they mean? How about Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy, Preclusion? Can you articulate a response to a possible shooting scenario? This is another field of study that needs your ongoing attention because winning the gunfight is only the first fight you will encounter. Our court system may well be just as dangerous to your life and freedoms and your threat was.

Are you PROFICIENT in defending your actions?

Proficiency – there is much more to that particular word than simply putting holes on a target. Demand excellence from yourself. Expect the best. Push yourself. Grow, learn, become better. Proficiency is not a static quantity. It demands ongoing work.

Start tomorrow . . . time’s a wasting . . .

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Review – AAR Scouting Popcorn Challenge 5-2-2015


May always brings the primary opening of scout camp in our council. While there are events year around, May sees a real push to prep everything for our annual scout camp beginning in Mid-June.

One of the “shake-down” runs for the shooting sports in the annual “Popcorn Challenge” that acts as a reward for those scouts that excelled during the annual popcorn sale. It was a banner year here with an estimated 400 scouts due to visit camp for the day. We set up 24 benches on the rifle range (doubled 6 of them up) and then 10 lanes on the archery range.

The process was simple . . . 10 minute safety brief followed by 20 minutes of shooting. The first course of fire was by-command only and from then on either a parent, RO or other scout leader assisted them in sending rounds down range one BB at a time. Targets were set out at 15 feet and we were off.

We honed this process this past fall and I must say we did not seem to lose much in the way of “polish”. The day ran smooth with the first shooters showing up at 9:30 AM and the last taking their seats at 3:00 PM. A rough shooter count . . . 288 Cub Scouts sending 30-50 rounds down range. A fine time was had by all to say the very least. This folks, is what it’s all about . . .

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That said, I do want to take just a few lines to reiterate my comments of this past Fall . . . you can get a lot of good work done with a new shooter with a Daisy Red Rider BB Gun! Primary of course are the 3 NRA gun safety rules. It is a solid beginning for a new shooter. All the components are there – the requirement for safe gun handling, the fundamentals of mounting a rifle, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press, follow through as well as a consistent sight picture rather than “following the hole”.

There is also the challenge for an instructor to be able to communicate to and manage up to – in our case – 30 young shooters on the range at a time. The standard is a RSO per 8 scouts plus the instructor. We had the added benefit that nearly every scout was accompanied by a parent. Events like this are great places to hone your skills helping a young scout work out the kinks.

It’s also a great platform to introduce a new adult shooter to a rifle as well. I had a number of moms who had never touched a firearm of any type break out in a great big grin when they sent their first rounds down range and saw the resulting group of holes in their target.

Taking a lot of words here to say . . . get involved with these new shooters. Scout councils across the country are looking for BB Gun Range Masters, NRA certified instructors for merit badges and help at their scout camps. I promise you the rewards will far exceed the efforts needed to lend a hand. And . . . make use of the lowly BB Gun. Your ability to set up a usable “rifle range” pretty much anywhere can give you a great deal of flexibility. And, once the mechanics are solid, the safety rules are ingrained in the new shooter – you can put a final polish on the student by moving them to a true rifle range.

For the scouts – summer is nearly here. Rifle ranges, shotgun ranges, archery ranges are calling . . .

. . . take some time to lend them all a hand.