Saturday, December 31, 2016

Just the Basics – The AR Platform.  An introduction . . .

I see tons of new shooters at local ranges with new (or even old) ARs and they’re making holes . . . or “sightin’ it in”, or rippin’ off a magazine through a silhouette up against the berm . . . and little else.  Virtually all are capable of so much more.
Of course, there are dozens and dozens of book out there on the AR from the armorer level to the tacti-cool shooter level.  We’ve all rolled through a bunch of them I suspect.  So, why
one more?  Because, frankly, I have yet to see one that provides me “Just the Basics” all in one spot.  I don’t need an armorer’s manual . . . but I do want to know nomenclature, how the platform functions, how to clear malfunctions, something about its ammunition and a review of the basic shooting positions.  I want “Just the Basics”.  And since I can’t find what I want, I intend to create it in such a way that will be useful to a new and inexperienced shooter as a basic learning tool and hopefully some instructors may find value in it for their basic AR courses as well.  If nothing else, just putting thought to paper is fun for me and hopefully educational for those shooters that I like to focus on.  So, what to cover, what to cover . . . here’s where I’m going.  Feel free to offer thoughts if you’d like things added.

The history of the AR platform.  It’s hard to know what you hold in your hand if you don’t know where it came from.  We’ll take a walk through the general nomenclature of the AR.  What is its cycles of fire.  I’ll summarize their primary assemblies – the Lower Receiver, the Upper Receiver and the bolt carrier group.  In the Lower Receiver, we’ll take a pass through the stock, the buffer, various trigger assemblies and modes of fire, the grip and the magazine catch and bolt catch.  The Upper Receiver will cover handguards, front and rear sights, rail systems, gas tubes, pistons, barrels, gas blocks and flash suppressors.  Finally, the bolt carrier group will cover the charging handle and all components of the bolt carrier.  When you’re finished reading each of these sections you should have a solid foundation of the AR platform from a component and functional point of view.

After the foundational information, we will chat about magazines, general maintenance, various sighting systems from the standard rear peep and front post to pop up backup irons to holographic options.  And, we’ll spend a bit of time on telescopic sights as well.  Then we’ll move on to various types of slings and flashlights.  Again, the idea is to provide foundational information for a basic defensive firearm, not a weapon to hang a ton of “furniture” off.

Ammunition will be part of the mix as well.  I’ll stick to 5.56 NATO, .223, 7.62 NATO and .308 Winchester.  We’ll cover the particulars of each round, their subtle differences as well as their ballistics.  Then we talk about zeroing your AR and then move to a review of the basic shooting positions – bench, standing, kneeling, sitting and prone.

Finally, I’ll work through some foundational shooting drills, talk about longer range marksmanship and outline both a marksmanship course of fire as well as a CQB course of fire.

That’s the plan with the intention of having everything completed by June and hopefully to the publisher so it’s out by the end of the year.  We’ll see how it goes.  My method for rolling out each section will be to provide a new index area to the blog entitled “The AR Platform”.  Each “chapter” will be posted there along with any appropriate images.  If you have thoughts on any post, you’re welcome to review and share them.  I will make sure you all get attribution at the end of the book for any suggestions you may offer.

So, first section out of the box . . . “History of the AR Platform” . . .

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Training - It’s a Wrap

I do one of these for the family each year . . . the Keller Family in review.  What did each member do, what did our married kid’s families do . . . just a way to bring all our friends up
to date.  I like writing the “Christmas Letter”, it’s a time of reflection, a way to connect with friends and a way to remember that life goes fast and that if you don’t slow down and savor it, participate in it . . . those opportunities are lost forever. 

In that same spirit, I want to spin through the firearms training part of my life and share with you folks that take the time to read my musings (thank you, very much) how the year meant and what it means as both an instructor and a student.

Why even post this?  Well, as I said, it helps me personally as a “check” on just where I am in the scheme of things.  Am I moving forward, stagnating or falling back.  I’d encourage you – whether simply a shooter, student or both a student and instructor – take some time and write (yes, write the damn thing down) a year in review for yourself.  It’s a way to hold yourself accountable, to look over your own shoulder and evaluate your life as a shooter, student and instructor.  It’s easy to tell yourself stories in the quiet of the evening while sipping an adult beverage in your favorite recliner.  Stories don’t help you grow. 

As for why this post should have any meaning for you, it probably won’t other than to serve as an example on how to do such a thing.  But, I hope you find value in one example of how one shooter and instructor spent their year.  Who knows . . . drop a note/comment/email and let me know what you think.

I’m going to break this into four different categories – coursework I taught, course work I took, range trips and finally blog posts.  So let’s take a walk down memory lane.

Coursework Taught

The “shooter” side of my life is not how I make a living and I suppose that is reflected in the number of courses I teach in a year.  This year I taught 12 courses for a total of 156 hours of instructor time.  I’ve reviewed many on the blog but here’s the list.

1/8-10/2016               NRA BIT and BP Instructor                        24 hr

2/6/2016                     NAPSI FDP                                       8 hr

2/20/2016                  NRA RSO                                          8 hr

4/2/2016                     NAPSI FDP                                       8 hr

4/9/2016                     BBGun Rangemaster                     6 hr

4/15/2016                  NRA BIT and BR Instructor            24 hr

4/30 – 5/1/2016         NRA BS Instructor                           16 hr

5/14/2016                  NRA RSO                                          8 hr

6/28/2016                  NAPSI FDP                                       8 hr

9/22-25/2016             NAPSI MOI & FDP Instructor         32 hr

10/19/2016                NASPSI FDP                                                8 hr

12/7/2016                  NRA BP Phase II                             6 hr

As you can see it’s a fairly broad mix of subjects.  What a list like this means to an instructor is that you are in front of students practicing your craft . . . firearms instruction.  Whether it’s a BBGun Rangemaster course for scouters or a NAPSI Foundations of Defensive Pistol, you are refining your abilities as an instructor, working on the skill of transferring your knowledge to new shooters or instructors.  As instructors – THIS – this right here is your most important goal – to teach.  Like shooting, it’s a perishable skill.  If you don’t teach, you forget the words, the flow, the goals . . . you diminish as an instructor.  What’s not shown in the hours listed is the prep work.  I probably spend 4 or more hours per course taught simply reviewing my lesson plans, rolling through the power points if there are any, reviewing the instructor manual, reading old course AARs . . . because students expect our best . . . they deserve our best . . . and that simply takes time and effort.

One special course I helped teach was the NAPSI Methods of Instruction (MOI) and the Foundations of Defensive Pistol (FDP) Instructor Development Course.  It was our first of what hopefully will be many more in the future.  We are having our NAPSI Development Conference the end of February – our IDC courses for the year will the listed after that.  That AAR is posted on the blog if you’re interested.

Take a look at the number of courses you taught, read your AARs, be honest with yourself . . . and then look forward to next year and see how many ways you can improve as an instructor.

Coursework Taken

We’ve had this conversation before.  You MUST take some type of coursework every year.  Whether it is instructor development or coursework offered by other instructors – your own individual learning simply must be a priority every year.  This year I took 4 separate courses for a total of 72 hours of coursework.

6/24-25/2016                         Gunsite 150                          24 hr

8/20/2016                              CFS 1-day pistol                  8 hr

11/21-22/2016                      Patrol Rifle                            24 hr

11/29-30/2016                      AR-15 Armorer Course       16 hr

Three of these courses have AARs posted.  And, just as an aside – let’s spend a few minutes on AARs – After Action Reports.  There is tremendous value in conducting a brief AAR at the end of each class.  What did your students think, do they have remaining questions, how do they evaluate you, what went well, what didn’t.  Then, take an hour or so and do your own.  I’m a notebook kinda guy.  I have them going back to the late 60s.  They let me focus, store data, learn from my mistakes and remember those really good ideas that slip away when I promise myself that “I’ll remember that!!”  If this isn’t a habit you’ve build, I gently suggest that you start.

I did not post an AAR for the CFS just because I ran out of time in August and September.  It’s been a busy year!

The other things students should look for is that you – as an instructor and shooter – are still growing.  Taking a single Basic Pistol Instructor course does little to make you a competent and skilled instructor or shooter.  And how can you expect a student to come to you to learn . . . if you have stopped learning.

Range Trips

As the saying goes . . . “Shooting is a perishable skill!”  Yes, yes it is.  If you aren’t regularly visiting the range, your skillset is diminishing.  Period.  My usual pitch to students is that in January they buy 1,000 rounds of ammunition.  Plan to shoot once a month and use 100 rounds per trip.  Given that “stuff happens” this approach would guarantee at least 10 range trips.  I see that as a minimum . . . but it’s not a bad starting point.

I also harp on the phrase “practice with purpose”.  Range trips are not about making holes but rather about honing and refine skills.  And – these too should be documented.  That little smartphone in your pocket is a great place to start along with a Sharpie.  Date the target, display the round count, the hit count, the percentage of hits, define the drill you’re working on, add that to the little notebook you’re going to start carrying in your range bag and then photograph your finished targets at the end of each drill.  You are doing a couple things with this.  First, you are giving yourself increments on the measuring stick to see how you are doing as a shooter.  And second, you are providing proof that you diligently practice your craft should the unspeakable happen and you are involved in a lethal shooting.

For me this year I expended around 2,000 9mm rounds and about 1,800 .223 rounds in coursework.  Add another 1,000 of each on range trips . . . it’s been a good year on the range.

Blog Posts

I fancy myself a “Blogger” and an “Author”.  In 2016 I posted 32 articles to my blog including this one.  Honestly, my most blogger measurements I’m a piker!  But, I post with a purpose.  My blog is specifically for the “new and inexperienced” shooter.  I don’t want my teaching to be limited strictly to the classroom.  I want to provide one more alternative to new shooters to learn new information and to hear an alternative opinion.  So I blog.  I also want to have a way for prospective students to see if they want to take coursework from me.  I’m fairly clear in my thoughts and opinions and the blog is yet another way for a student to evaluate me.

This is also a way for you to broaden your reach as both an instructor and as a marketer for your training company.  For my blog I use  I also use Facebook.  Both have value in their own way.  I would suggest that you will find value in sharing your thoughts, ideas in experiences with your students and prospective students.  Give it a try for a year and see what you think.

On the “Author” front I was nicely surprised to begin receiving quarterly royalty checks for my “Just the Basics” book this year.  Honestly, it was just kinda hanging out there – out of sight, out of mind when I get a report of upcoming payments.  Cool!  For those kind enough to purchase the book, thank you.  And for the instructors that have started to use it as a reference for their students, the publisher will sell it to you for 50% off the $16.95 retail price.  If you have written your own coursework and are looking for a book to provide – give me a look-see.

And, for 2017 . . . “Just the Basics – the AR Platform”.  The publisher is pretty excited, now all I need to do is to roll the puppy out.  I plan on releasing it chapter by chapter on the blog so stay tuned if you have interest.

So, that’s a wrap for the year.  290 hours for training and writing.  As I said, I’m a piker compared to many who do this for a living.  But, I’m happy with what I’ve done and turned out and looking forward to what 2017 has to offer.

A bit late but . . . Merry Christmas folks!  And I wish you all nothing but the best in the New Year!


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Review - AAR AR-15 Armorer Course 11 29-30 2016

Armorer:        one that makes armor or arms
                      one that repairs, assembles, and tests firearms

One of the staffing holes our community PD has is that of an Armorer for their AR patrol rifles.  While not a huge issue as they are now rolling officers through a standard patrol rifle curriculum and qualifying them on that platform the need for a certified armorer has grown a tad.  There are a lot of reasons that holes like this exist in organizations . . . staffing, time, school availability, school costs to name just a few.  Our specific department had problems with both staffing and costs.  So Eric, the primary trainer forwarded me an email.  “Want to go to Armorer’s school??”   Hummm . . . give me a second or two . . . Sure!!!

November 29th found me traveling to North Liberty, Iowa’s PD for the first of a 2-day AR/M16/M4 Armorer’s course conducted by Defensive Edge/SLR15 Rifles headquartered in Anoka, Minnesota.  The instructor was Greg “Sully” Sullivan.  We began each day promptly at 8AM and ended at about 5:15PM.  There was a 1 hour lunch and a couple 5-minute breaks . . . otherwise you were using the supplied tools to break down you AR to the individual component parts.  It was a very valuable, very intense 2 days that saw each of us taking our lowers down to bare metal a dozen times.  Uppers were disassembled including barrel and gas tubes removal.  The Bolt Carrier Group was also fully disassembled, inspected, warn parts replaced and reassembled.  And, finally, stocks were broken down as well.  Obviously, we covered a lot of ground.
The first part of day one doing typical new-class mechanics and introductions to each other – I believe there were 20 of us in the class.  This was followed by a brief history lesson of the AR platform followed by an in-depth discussion of the weapon’s function and cycle of operation.  All this took about 3 hours. 

Next we were told what we could expect regarding our tour through the platform.  It was basically broken up into three major categories – the upper, the lower and the bolt carrier group.  We were introduced to the tool set provided for the course . . .

Red Rag
Bench Block
Needle Oiler with Kroil
Hammer with magnet
Dental Pick
Scotchbrite and pipecleaners
Delrin Punch
2 pin punches – 1/16 and 3/32
2 roll pin punches – 3/32 and 1/8

We began by watching and learning how “Sully” wanted us to break down our weapons.  We separated upper from lower and removed the charging handle and bolt carrier group.  We set the upper and lower off to the side . . . and spent the rest of the day on the bolt carrier group.

We discussed its function, how it operated throughout the cycle of operation.  We did a quick cleaning with Sully’s recommended cleaners.  We also talked about how poor cleaning methods can damage the bolt carrier group . . . for example broken Q-tips left in the gas key. 

We disassembled the bolt, the ejector, removed the gas rings and talked about how they contribute to certain types of malfunctions, how to check them for functionability, how to lube them and the addition of the little O ring on the ejector to help it be more reliable.  The only component we didn’t remove was the gas key since virtually all were all staked on.  Those that were not staked . . . were by the time we were done.

Add in lunch, a couple 5 minute breaks and we were at the first day’s wrap with a heads-up for the following day.  The morning was to be spent on the lower and the afternoon on the upper.  It promised to be just as busy . . . and he promised to get us grubby as well. 

The morning of day 2 was spent on the lower.  Those with adjustable butt stocks removed the stocks and the buffer and buffer spring.  Next came the grip and the trigger group.  We inspected each component and chatted about its function.  We also removed the magazine release, the bolt catch and the dust cover.  We made lots of use of the punches and hammer as well as strategically placed tape to prevent scratching of the lower. 

We also talked about the difference between single stage and double stage triggers, burst mode and full auto.  The phrase “drinking from a fire hose” comes to mind.  Throughout this part of the process we removed/reinstalled the trigger group a half dozen times.  I think I could do it in my sleep now.

After lunch, we moved on to the uppers.  There was no requirement that we actually remove our barrels from the upper.  We removed the handguard assemblies, the flash suppressor and gas tubes.  Sully had brought some grinder stands with vices attached and an assortment of jiggs to firmly fix the upper to the vice.  He also had an assortment of wrenches and offered those that wanted to remove and then reinstall the barrels.  What the heck . . . in for a penny . . . in for a pound.  I got in line removed the barrel and then reinstalled it – torque wrench and all.  By the time that was done we were told to do a final reassembly, clean up are areas and Sully would button things up.  After a few final thoughts, we were given our certificates of completion for the 16-hour course and sent on our way.  Gotta admit . . . I was pretty wiped by the time I headed home.

Some take-aways.

There is “the guy” who builds his own gun . . . and then those that also take an armorers course from a respected company.  I believe there is a difference.  Throughout the entire course we were filled with years of experience on how this specific component affected the operation of the weapon, how it failed – with live examples that were passed around.  Cleaning and lubrication was attended to and the products he recommended.  These primarily revolved around the Slip2000 products.  He paid special attention to lubrication for everyday use, training use and cold weather.

I first put a M-16 in my hand in August of 1969.  While I have never considered myself anywhere near an expert . . . after this two-day course I have absolutely no concern totally breaking down and troubleshooting an AR today.

I would not hesitate in the least to recommend Defensive Edge and their Armorer’s Course for the AR. 

Go forth . . . learn things . . .

Friday, December 9, 2016

Review - AAR NRA BP Phase II  12-8-2016

Well, after – what – 9-ish months, the phone rang.  It was a very pleasant fellow by the name of Steve, a state patrol officer and state certified firearms instructor looking to take the NRA BP Phase II from me.  Things that make ya say hummmmmm . . .

Seems his state certification will expire the end of this year.  He’s not going to renew it.  In the state of Iowa a NRA certification is (as is a LEO cert) acceptable to teach a carry class . . . and the NRA BP course fills the square for an Iowa carry class.  I know, it all sounds fairly convoluted, because it is I guess.
Anyway, on his way to getting a NRA Certification, his first stop was the NRA BP Phase I online course closely followed by the Phase II course . . . and me.  So, this past Thursday we met and completed his Phase II coursework.  Since this has been my one . . . and only . . . BP course since blended learning was introduced I felt there may be some value in doing an AAR for it for those fellow instructors who may have interest in such things.

Steve is definitely an anomaly as far as students are concerned.  He’s been a patrol officer for 22 years, an instructor for the past 13 (?) if memory serves as well as a USCCA instructor.  Let’s say he has shooting and instructing experience.  All that said I can honestly say he set all that experience aside and truly jumped in as a student.  Honestly, few instructors can do that . . . very few.

The day began with paperwork . . . hold harmless agreements, media releases, filling out the Student portion of the 4-page “review” signoff sheet.  And we were off.  You would think that with an experienced individual you could blow through this puppy is a couple of hours.  The estimated time is 5 hours . . . it actually took just a bit more.  Keep that in mind should you students be “new and inexperienced”.  While it is one thing to assume that with a Phase I cert and PIN number in their hand, they truly “got” the on-line portion, the time it takes to roll through all the verification material simply takes . . . time.  Honorable instructors will do the work .  . . which will take around 5 hours IMNSHO.  (Keep in mind that even with the change to blended learning there was nothing stopping Steve and I from adjourning to a coffee shop – instead of the -5*F windchill range – and doing a little “wink, wink – nod, nod” and pencil whipping this puppy.)

During our working through the exercises we chatted some on how Phase I went for Steve.  If I recall it took me about 11 hours to complete the entire thing.  11 – what I would consider painful hours.  It took him a week of a couple hours a night to complete Phase I with a 90% first time through.   He expressed real concern how a new and inexperienced person would do and, as we rolled through the exercises and checkoff sheet. he continued to comment how he could see much of the “review” would probably be actual instruction.  I gotta say I agree.

One area that I believe Phase II truly got it right was the shooting portion.  The process, the flow, the round count . . . I like it.  Honestly it follows fairly closely what I do in my own coursework and is a good path to turn out a very proficient new shooter.  I left extra targets at the office so we ran a bit short but he qualified at the 10 and 15 foot distance no problem as well as at the 45 foot distance.  Honestly, wasn’t surprised at this given his level of experience.  That said, there’s always surprises.
As I indicated earlier – it was chilly, -5*F windchill and light snow.  Welcome to winter training in Iowa.  Anyway, he’d forgotten is patrol gloves and only had what most new shooters would have – fluffy, “warm” gloves.  Through the “development” phase things seemed to go just fine.  We got to the first qualification target . . . second circle and everything just plain went to crap.  Rounds hitting all over the frickin’ place.  WTH???  Now, I’ve seen this a couple of times, particularly with new handguns where a front sight loosens or a rear sight has been bumped in transit . . . so I asked to shoot 5 rounds to see how things went.  Nice 1” group . . . not the gun.  So, he shot, I watched . . . finally . . . “Steve, take off your glove . . .”.  So, he takes off his dominant hand glove and sends the next 5 rounds downrange . . . into a nice 1-inch-ish group.  He completed his course of fire for all the remaining targets I had out to 45’ . . . and shot the way you would expect a LEO Instructor would shoot.

Back into the warmth, a final review, a bit of an AAR . . . and it was done.  So, a few take-aways.

I’ve not changed my mind on blended learning.  I can easily see Phase II being a full 8+ hours for folks not as experienced as Steve – much of it just spent in review and clarification.
This is an 8+ hour course.  For new and inexperienced shooters – with the added range work – and the review.  It’s a full day.  So the price on my end didn’t change - $95 for Phase II.  What that means on the range, with the requirement of not more than 2 shooters per instructor is that costs to the instructor increase significantly and classes of 10-ish with two shifts at the firing line with an instructor and an RSO are gone.  Adjunct instructors cost $150 per day . . . going to make this a very thin profit type of course. 

Based on results, interest in BP has dropped significantly in my area.  USCCA, stand alone coursework and others have taken up the slack.  Folks demand face to face around here – at least those truly interested in learning to shoot and the Blended Learning course is now simply too expensive.  As I said, this is my first BP class of 2016 since blended took over.  I’m not optimistic about demand in 2017 either.
Thanks for the call Steve – nicely done!  Congrats!