Friday, March 24, 2017

Just the Basics – Cleaning your gun . . . just like cleaning your riding boots . . .

I’ve made a lifelong effort to stick to the “foundations” of any particular task . . . be it design engineering, keeping my family first in my life, teaching defensive shooting . . . and teaching folks to clean the firearms that they may call upon to use to defend their lives.  In under all the “tacti-cool”, special tools, special kits, special chemicals, special lubricants . . . there is foundational process the guides us to the end-product.  A clean, lubricated and functional firearm.

Truth is though that sometimes the “gun geek” yells so loud, we can’t hear the logic behind a specific technique or the use of a specific cleaner or lubricant.  The speaker has too much energy wrapped up in their point of view that the volume of the words prevents the clear articulation of the point they are trying to make.  I want to try something different . . . by stepping WAY outta the box and I want to spend some time on process rather than specific items.  I want to discuss how you clean your gun . . . not what you clean it with.  Still, it’s hard to do by posting pictures of a specific handgun, my cleaning kit, the chemicals I use . . . because we all know how to do it “right”.  Much of my foundational information is simply lost in the mental argument of . . . “I can’t believe he uses THAT as a degreaser!!!” “Did you see his crappy brushes?!?!?”  “Holy cow!!  You use THAT as your lubricant?!?!?!?”  Yeah . . . so let’s not do that.

Let’s talk about cleaning boots . . . riding boots . . . dressage boots to be specific.  And allow me to show you that cleaning your gun is just like cleaning your riding boots.

My wife is up and rolling early this morning (literally this morning, she’s about 90 minutes into her 4.5 hour drive as I type this).  She’s off for a week of training with an instructor and the instructor’s “school master” horse to continue to work on her riding.  Honestly, she doesn’t compete, not her thing.  She’s demoed riding techniques to both brand new riders and well as those who ride 4th Level Dressage and higher.  She’s skilled . . . as she should be after well over 40 years of experience.  In fact one of our first dates in the summer of ’66 was horseback riding.  It ended with my horse stepping on a ground hornet’s nest and bolting full out for his stall.  Memorable to this very day.  I only add this bit about how long she’s been riding in to illustrate that to develop your craft, to become the best you can be and to maintain that level and push the upper levels of your capability . . . training never ends.  Whether you are a dressage rider or a shooter.  This is something my wife understand very well.

Anyway . . . a task I forgot last night was to clean and polish her riding boots.  They were setting next to the door so I gathered them up and took them to the kitchen.  I dug out the cleaning kit and the polishing kit and set to work.

There are five foundational steps to a clean riding boot.  Cleaning off the dirt, deep cleaning the leather, allowing the boot to dry, inspection of the boot for torn seams and finally the application of the right preservative – typically a boot polish or oil.  In this case, as simple black boot polish.  (Hoping you’re seeing some similarities here.)

If you look at the first photo of the boot, you notice that the seams around the sole are dirt filled, there is some mud build up in various areas of the leather and the boot as a whole is just dusty.  Over a long period of time if you fail to properly care for your boots the leather will crack, the seams will break down and a good pair of boots will become so much scrap.  This particular pair is about 10 years old and in reasonably good shape.

I begin cleaning by waiting for the mud to dry and then using a stiff bristled brush to brush off as much of the dirt and mud as I can.  Once this is removed I make a close inspection of all seams to see of some repair is called for.  I never try to remove mud when the mud is fresh or by using a wet rag to wipe it off.  Leather has pores and you would simply be filling these pores with the mud.  Better to brush it off after the boot and mud have dried.

You can see the difference between the dirty boot and this image of the brushed boot.  Next, a deeper cleaning.

This is one point of crossover between the gun geek and the boot geek . . . what’s the best cleaning material and process.  Ours is one we were taught and have used for over 40 years.  We use warm water, a damp natural sponge and a bar of saddle soap.  You want a DAMP sponge, not soaking wet.  You rub the bar of saddle soap with the damp sponge and then use this soapy surface to deep clean the leather.  The soap both cleans and conditions the leather.  It is a gently process not a heavy-handed process.  Once the entire surface of the boot has been cleaned and conditioned, the boot is again inspected and then left to dry.  The same process is used on the second riding boot.

Once they are dry, notice the difference from the first photo to the clean boot.  Quite a difference.  Finally, the boot conditioner – polish – is applied.  The kit shown is the Ziploc has components that are nearly 40 years old.  The buffing brush has buffed out riding boots, low quarters, combat boots, dance shoes . . . I can sit and brush and buff and feel over half my lifetime in my hand.  I find it comforting for some reason and it is a task I find enjoyable.

I take an application rag, stick my index finger in a fold, rub a couple circles in the top of the can of polish and then rub the polish into the boot beginning with the toe and ending at the gusset at the top of the boot.  Again, I let it dry a bit and apply polish to the second boot.  Once I am finished applying the polish I return to the first boot and use the buffing brush to buff out the boot.  I am not looking for a high gloss, we are orders of magnitude from a traditional military “spit shine” but we do end up with a black and slightly shiny CLEAN boot.  Which is the point.

Clean away excess dirt, use the proper cleaning material to clean the boot, inspect the boot and finally polish and condition the boot. 

I’m not going to go into a “blow by blow” comparison of how this all relates to cleaning your defensive weapons . . . but I’m hoping you see the obvious similarities.   Use a firm nylon brush to remove the excess GSR, us a cleaning material that can be fully removed when you’ve done a deep cleaning of your weapon, inspect your weapon for damage and finally apply an appropriate amount of lubricant to protect your weapon and to insure it operates smoothly. 

Cleaning your gun truly is just like cleaning your riding boots.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Training - Standards - Close Enough!

Training standards.  They’re subjective, variable, scenario dependent . . . flexible.  At the end of the day, when the last round is counted . . . your result is either “close enough” . . . or it’s not.  It’s as simple as that . . . and as “hinkie” as that.  Let’s chat about “Standards” for a bit.

We all get introduced to “standards” at an early age.  Standards of behavior by our parents.  Standards of performance by our teachers.  “Grades” that must be met to “pass”.   In the shooting community whether military, law enforcement, competition or civilian the word “qualify” pops its head up.  All of these systems come into to play . . . to see if me meet the “standards” . . . are we Close Enough . . . so that an individual or organization monitoring our performance looks us in the eye and say . . . you “made it”.

Standard:     something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example

something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality

I’ve touched on this a few times in the past.  But it resurfaced for me again last week when I visited a local indoor range for a little lead therapy.  My intent was to shake off some of the winter rust.  I have not done any real range work since the end of November so the first task is to just do some evaluation on where my skill set stands.  I continually preach to my students that shooting is a perishable skill and the fact I act as an instructor doesn’t grant me any special dispensation.  I spent time at four different distances.  I began at 7 yards, moved to 5 yards, then 10 yards and finally 50 feet.  The first three distances were covered on my first target and the 50 foot distance on the second.  So let’s drill down a bit.

My minimum “standard” is 80%.  When deciding on that number you also need to define the target.  For my purposes on target one, the targets are individual shapes and areas on the SEB target.  The “high center mass” box was the first target of interest.  50 rounds at 7 yards from the high compressed ready, slow fire.  I varied between single round engagements to accelerated pairs to slow strings of 3 to 5 at 1 second increments.  I loaded my magazines with 10 rounds each working with two range magazines and pausing to reload at the appropriate times.  My result, I put 49 out of 50 rounds within the “high center mass” box, a hit rate of 98%.  Notice that the group is fairly well distributed in the box that implies a reasonable balance of speed and precision.  I’ll take it.


Next was to move to smaller sized targets to increase the requirement for precision.  The circle on the right size was target 2.  I engaged is with 20 rounds of slow fire at 5 yards being careful to practice those things that help insure an accurate shot . . . a solid stance, firm grip, good sight alignment and sight picture, take up the slack in the trigger and finish with a smooth trigger press.  The result?  I was down two yielding a 90%.  I moved to the Ocular Cavity with another 20 rounds, same distance and ending up dropping 4 rounds yielding an 80%.  A squeaker.  Finally, a final 20 rounds at 5 yards on the circle on the left dropping zero and a 100% hit rate.

Next I moved the target out to 10 yards and engaged the Pelvic Girdle with 50 rounds.  Here things opened up a bit and I dropped 8 rounds with a score of 84%.  Finally, I moved to two more precise targets - the 4-box and 3-box – engaging each with 10 rounds.  Obviously here things degraded quite a bit with a 50% on the 3-box and a 30% on the 4-box.  These scores certainly show that I need to work on precision at longer distances.  This took around 45 minutes to an hour complete my evaluation of the depth of the “rust” that had accumulated over the winter.

Next, I posted another target and sent it out to 50 feet.  I slow fired 50 rounds from the high compressed ready and evaluated my results.  Here I want to point out a couple different “standards”.  If you shoot a military or law enforcement course of fire with 50 rounds an hit is any hole within the silhouette.  If we take that standard I dropped 1 rounds for a score of 98%.

A second standard would be using the high center chest box as the target.  If I use that standard I shot a 60%.   Regardless of which standard you choose . . . you eventually reach a point where you are “close enough” to meet the “standard” of the instructor/RO/shooting wizard in charge of the drill being shot . . . or you’re not.

What prompted this particular post is that a friend replied to my post on my FB where I posted my targets and commented that I obviously had work to do this season.  His question was:   Where you aiming at the target... cuz it looks look you hit the target. Congrats!   Where I was aiming had an effect on my overall accuracy.  His “standard” was obviously different than mine.  Bottom line we both get to the same place, a consistent way of evaluating my shooting.  But when you drill down a bit, specific courses of fire vary and can be evaluated separately.   

Bottom, bottom, bottom line . . . set your own standard when you do your individual training on your monthly range visits.  Document your trip.  Detail what your course of fire was – distance, number of rounds, specific target area.  And then, hold yourself accountable for your result so you know which specific areas you need to work on.  Remember to use your full range of tools to document and evaluate your trip.  Photograph your target.  Save that photo to your documentation file on your computer that proves you are diligent in practicing your craft.  Consider using your video camera on your phone to evaluate your draw stroke, how you move off the “x”, your reloads, how you drive out to the target.

Shooting is a perishable skill.  If you choose not to visit the range . . . your scores are going to diminish, simple as that.  Set a standard, hit the range and get some good work done.