Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review –  AAR Gunsite Indiana Carbine 1-2-3

After Action Reports – AARs – are always interesting to do.  They’re an opportunity to sit in the calm after the “event”, gather your thoughts and experiences and try to make sense out of what happen over the past little bit.  In this case, from June 7 through June 9 during the Gunsite Indiana Carbine 1-2-3 course.  I talked about how a prepped for the course a few weeks ago here.   I’ve had a couple of days of R&R, got my feet wet back at work . . . so let’s chat a bit about the course, my experience, things I learned and things I will continue to work on.

This review is coming together a bit differently in my head.  I’m going to do it in the following sections:

·        Training Team

·        Teaching Methods

·        Drills

·        Expectations of the Training Team

·        Equipment Malfunctions

·        User Induced Malfunctions

·        Personal Equipment

So, let’s get started!

Training Team

Last year I took the Gunsite 150 3-day pistol course.  I believe I was fortunate to have the same three instructors (as well as 3 of the students from last year) return for this year’s carbine course.

The lead instructor was Jay.  He’s a former Marine, retired LEO and has been an instructor for Gunsite for 16 years if memory serves.  His teaching style is certainly one to emulate – open, friendly, direct, demanding.  He was continually pushing each student making sure they were truly getting the concept presented and insuring we integrated each concept throughout the rest of the course.  He made sure he gave individual attention to each of us throughout the course.  As new things came along he would also demo those items he was presenting as each of the other instructors did in turn.

Jay was the primary presenter for our very limited amount of classroom time.  Over the three days I believe we only spent about 4-5 hours in the classroom.

We covered the basic functioning of the AR platform, fundamental ballistics, methods of zero with particular emphasis on bullet drop and rise so we could account for hold-over since shooting distances were 3y, 5y, 7y, 10y, 15y, 25y and finally zero checks at 50 yards each day.

We also listened to a 1/2 -hour lecture by Lt. Col. Cooper on the color code.  You can find a link to the YouTube video here . . . take the time to watch it, I found it quite enlightening.

Jay – and the remaining team members – were professional in every respect.  Their bearing, their dress, their willingness to demonstrate and explain and their insistence that each student do their very best are solid examples of what should be expected from a firearms instructor.

Pete is a LEO from South Philadelphia and has been a Gunsite Instructor for over 10 years..  He manages the officers in his department and is the sniper for a regional SWAT team.  He could easily take everything that we were being asked to do and present real-world instances to explain the “why” of doing things that particular way.  Whether showing how to sling a carbine, how to enter various kneeling positions, shooting around barriers and the use of cover . . . Pete did it smoothly while explaining each individual step in the movement.  Again, his demeanor, clarity, willingness to answer questions and to nudge, demand, fine-tune each individual student clearly showed his dedication to his craft.

Jerrod is also a regional LEO adding his 15+ years of experience to the mix.  As with Pete and Jay his professional demeanor brought a great deal to the training team.  He would nudge, prod, explain, expect from each student and was relentless in puling the best from each of us.

One of the things that sets various training companies apart are the instructors.  Their knowledge, their skill level, their attitude while teaching and their willingness to share with their students.  This particular training team – Jay, Pete and Jerrod – are great examples of what we all should be looking for.

 Teaching Methods

Their primary teaching method is one I’ve been familiar with for 50 years.  Tell ‘em what you’re going to teach ‘em . . . teach ‘em . . . and tell ‘em what you taught ‘em.  The “Oreo” method.

Each element of the shooting position was described, demonstrated and then, as each student emulated what was shown, we were tweaked and adjusted.  The tweaking, reminding and expecting went on for the entire three days.  Add to this mounting the carbine, grasping the foregrip, the position of the weapon for low ready, indoor ready and how to quickly bring your weapon up for an engagement covered.

This method covered all the positions we were worked on – standing, speed kneeling, double kneeling, braced kneeling and prone.  We covered emergency reloads, tactical reloads, use of high cover, use of low cover, turning to the left and right 90-degrees as well as engaging a threat with a 180-degree turn and moving targets.

This was the 3rd formal carbine class I’ve taken over the past 2 years.  And yes, once again “foundational” information was covered.  But, every time you learn the basics from a new instructor you find that the majority of the information presented is very similar, there is always subtle differences that provide you just a little bit more understanding of that particular element being covered.   

Each element that the training taught was thoroughly covered, demonstrated and experienced throughout our three days of live fire exercises – all under the careful eye and tweaking of the training team.


Drills were simple and demanding.  We all began at the 3-yard line with a single round at high center mass.

I zero my carbines with a 50/200 zero, and had confirmed my zero prior to coming to class.  On the first day, everyone confirmed their zeros and adjustments were made as necessary.  Five round groups were shot from the 50-yard line in the unsupported prone position.  There was no time limit for this exercise.  Zero was also confirmed on days 2 and three.  As you can see my weapon held a solid zero throughout the entire course.

A quick look at the ballistic chart for a 55-grain bullet at 3 yards clearly shows that the impact point will be a tad over 2 inches below your POA.  This would prove to bite me in the butt a couple of times where I simply forgot to incorporate it into my shot.  Heavy sigh . . . 

On the “FIRE!” command we sent our round and then did everything that comes after – the post shooting process . . .

·        Reset the trigger during recoil

·        Follow the target to the ground

·        Finger off the trigger, head up off the gun, scan for additional threats

·        Check the bolt to make sure it’s fully forward

·        Safe the weapon

·        Close the dust cover

This process was done, from this point forward, after each and every shooting drill . . . without exception.  The training team was relentless on making sure we completed each and every step in order.  I had a particular problem with resetting the trigger during recoil.  And, it seemed the loud CLICK of the reset – after I had followed the threat down – always occurred when Jay or Pete or Jerrod was just to my rear.  “Don’t ya hate it that we can all here that CLICK when your reset too late?”  asked Jay.  Yep, yes sir, I do.  By day three I had this under control . . . mostly . . .

The single round engagement was done 5 times, shooter checked and taped their targets and the second flight took the firing line and repeated the process.  Then we moved back to the 5-yard line and repeated the drill.  Then the 7-yard line, the 10-yard line, the 15-yard line and finally the 25-yard line.  With each round, our stance, our follow through, our post shooting process was evaluated. 

Then we moved and repeated the process with a single round to the head box, at each of the distances, with each round evaluated and each post shooting sequence reviewed . . . all the way out to 25 yards.

Next, accelerated pairs and each of the distances.

Then “Hammers” . . . two round engagements off one sight picture.  Where accelerated pairs are  . . . BANG! . . . reacquire the sight picture . . . BANG!.  A “Hammer” is . . . sight picture . . . BANG! BANG! . . . reacquire the sight picture.

Next came the “Failure Drill” – also known as the Mozambique Drill.  A “Hammer” to high center mass and one to the head box.  Hammers are quick but the headshot is very deliberate so there is a noticeable pause after the first two rounds.

By day three all of these drills were simply mixed together while other things were being worked on.  Be it turning to the left, the right, a 180, use of low cover or use of high cover . . . any of these drills could be called.

While the drills seem simple . . . they are the foundation of what you, as a shooter, need to be able to perform upon demand simply because if you can’t the bad guy is going to have your lunch!

Let’s talk a bit about mag changes.  We were typically encouraged to “manage your ammunition” at both the beginning of a drill and again upon the completion of the drill.  The idea behind that is to make sure you are aware of the state of your weapon and your ammo supply.  Before a drill the command was “Load and make ready”.  We were all welcome to do a tactical reload at this point using either the “Beer Can” method or by grabbing the dropped magazine between thumb and forefinger and then inserting the replacement magazine.  The “Beer Can” method worked best for me.  I would also allow my weapon to run dry to work on my emergency reload as well.

One thing we were expected to do during initial loading or emergency reloads was to touch the cartridge in the throat of the magazine, determine if it was to the left or right,   insert the magazine and tug to make sure it was seated then release the bolt.  Then drop the magazine and make sure the top round was now on the opposite side of the magazine throat.  This insured that we knew a round had truly been loaded.  There were plenty of opportunities to experience what happened when a shooter failed to do this process and a round had not been stripped off the magazine and loaded into the chamber!  The idea of touching the round was to offer a method that worked in the dark in preparation for our night shooting.

As you can see there was plenty going on during the live fire porting of the course which was fully 80% of the course.

Expectations of the Training Team

The training team expected us to get our hits, perform our post shooting process, keep our weapons functioning . . . to run the gun . . . and not let the gun run us.  They did this with encouraging words, humor, gentle little jibes, and subtle looks or shakes of their head.  They were continually striving for us to perform well.  With three instructors and 11 shooters little was missed. 

Equipment Malfunctions

Set in context, your weapon and the items hanging off it determine whether you go home or not should the stuff really hit the fan.  There was a broad range of carbines represented from some easily reaching the $2,500+ mark to my lowly DPMS Oracle.  I suppose I’ll jinx things here but I had zero weapon malfunctions.  I caught a tremendous amount of crap for my Eotech 517 and certainly set myself up saying I’d never had a problem with it (though I kept a spare pack of batteries in my pocket).  But I had no problems with anything – weapon, sling, magazines, weapon mounted light . . . it all worked as it should.  I did move my mounting points for the sling moving the foregrip mount rearward a bit and the stock to the slot on the top of the stock.  Overall I was more than pleased.  The zero held for the entire course, the gun ran well, I had no ammo failures.  I was a pretty darn happy camper.

We did see quite a few failures though.  Three optics failed, many had problems accepting magazines that needed to be fiddled with while they were inserted.  One shooter ran into a problem with his ammo and gun.  It was never really determined where the problem was be it ammo, magazine or gun.  The bottom, bottom line . . . if you just take your gun to the range once in awhile and run a magazine or three through it . . . you have no idea if your gear works.  After three days and 900-ish rounds . . . you’ll have a much better idea.  Would you bet your life on your gun?  After three days, for me, the answer is yes.

User Induced Malfunctions

These were abundant.  I’ll talk about mine.

The frickin magazine dropped out after firing a single round!!!  Yep, this comes from skipping the - tug the magazine once it’s inserted – step of loading process.  The late Pat Rodgers even had a patch and “moose call” for this particular little failure.  I did this once . . . and only once.

What the hell do you mean CLICK??  As a drill was beginning my mind drifted.  We were coming from a condition 4 carbine (empty, bolt locked back, ejection port cover open) and I simply didn’t hear the “Load and Make Ready” command.  On the command FIRE I mounted my weapon and . . . nothing.  I do a clearing drill and press on the bottom of the magazine . . . to find it’s missing!  Heavy sigh.  And  , , , emergency reload . . . I completed the drill.

Double feed??  Really???  I wear a glove on my support hand because the charging handle has aggressive “teeth” cut into it to insure a firm grip is available.  During dry drills in a patrol rifle course I took this past November I noticed my index finger on my support hand was dripping blood all over the floor.  Since then, I wear a glove on my support hand.  The thing to remember though is that when you grasp the foregrip make sure a finger doesn’t slide along the bolt as it goes forward . . . or it might slow things enough to give you a double feed.  Heavy sigh.  Rip out the magazine, lock the bolt back, slip a couple fingers up the mag well, “diddle, diddle, diddle” so the rounds drop out, rack, rack, rack, emergency reload . . . and finish the drill.

And a tactical “failure”.  We’re shooting the mover and I’ve challenged the threat, determined that it is a real threat and engaged it while it was moving.

“Bill, he’s shooting at you – use cover!!  BILL!!  BILL!!!!!! HE’S SHOOTING AT YOU!!  BILL!!!!!  And finally, as I’d emptied by first 10-round magazine . . . I heard Jerrod yelling at me.  And I began to use cover while engaging the threat.  Heavy sigh . . . keep your frickin’ head in the game folks, that’s all I’m sayin’!

Personal Equipment

There’s the typical items – ears, eyes, cap, long pants, sturdy shoes.  Something that works for you.  Something I added this year was a white, long sleeved, SPF 50 shirt.  It really made a difference, I was much cooler and no sun burn issues,  I bought 3, one for each day.

We needed three magazines (PMags for me) and I had two mag carriers that attached on my support side starting at about 9 o’clock.  The third magazine I dropped in my rear left pocket and I used my right rear pocket to hold the empty magazines.  I have 5.11 tac pants that work well for me.

I use a Surefire TR1 weapon light and I bought a new Surefire G2ZX for a handheld light.  I was very happy with that and will write a review soon. 

My optic was an EoTech 517.  While there has been much bad press about the company mine has functioned well and continued to do so over the three days of the course.  My BUIS were by Magpul.  I have zeroed them at 50 yards but found no need for them during this course.

Bottom line, keep it simple.  That worked well for me.

Final thoughts

I always harp on folks taking some type of training every year.  This is one of three I will take this year and it was worth the 5 days away from home and the cost of the course, gas, food and lodging.  I’m a very pleased customer.

Thanks to Jay, Pete and Jerrod for a great three days.  It was a good, solid training experience!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Training - Preparing to take a class

Sooooooo . . . you’re going to take some coursework.  Good for you!!!  You should take “something” every year.  I’ve shared any number of times about the idea of annual training.  Set aside $1,200 every year for training.  Buy 1,000 rounds of ammo every January for your 100-round range trips every month (allowing for two skipped months).  Take coursework from a reputable trainer every year.  And . . . document, document, document . . .

This whole process has been on my mind because I’ve entered what has become my “training season”.  I’ve just completed Massad Ayoob’s MAG-20 course, I’m leaving for the traveling Gunsite 123 Carbine Class in Indiana on Thursday and have signed up for Rob Pincus’ Defensive Firearms Coach course in August.  So much for a $1,200 budget . . . heavy sigh.

I wanted to take a bit of time to chat about how to prepare for a set of coursework you are going to take.  How do you “get ready”?  What’s important?  Let me share my thoughts.

Attitude:  a mental position with regard to a fact or state

                a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state, a negative attitude an optimistic                             attitude

                a negative or hostile state of mind

                 a cool, cocky, defiant, or arrogant manner

In NRA coursework, the goal for virtually every course taught revolves about developing a Knowledge, Skill and Attitude that allows the student to become proficient in what is being taught.  Of the three traits, ATTITUDE is defined as the most important trait.  The student’s Attitude will ultimately determine whether learning takes place.

A number of years ago I took a course from Rob Pincus.  One of my fellow students was a C.O.G. . . . Crotchety Old Guy . . . Honestly, I have no issues with C.O.G.s, I am one.  But, when it influences an individual to the point where their ATTITIUDE prohibits virtually any and all learning . . . nothing good comes of it.  I watched this person over two days simply refuse to move, learn, try, embrace what was being taught.  This student left with . . . nothing, not even a certificate because they refused to come to the AAR.  So, why share this tale . . .

Because if, right now, as you are about to fill out your credit card info on line to sign up for the coursework you’ve decided to take, you are going to show the instructor and your fellow students just how much you know and how good you are . . . please . . . DON’T GO!  STAY HOME!  If you have the ability to be open minded – even in the face of information you may find you are resistant to .  . . you will stand a much better chance of leaving the coursework having learned as much as you can!

So – number one on your list for course prep . . . have a good attitude!  EVERYTHING going forward depends on it.

Know the requirements of the course.  In college parlance, this would be the Syllabus of the course.  It will describe the date, hours, location, equipment requirements, round count and any other details that are relevant.  Pay Attention!!!

Make sure your equipment runs.  Guns, flashlights, weapon lights, magazines, mag pouches . . . make sure everything is functional.

Arrive a day early.  Now, for local courses, just make sure you are in place around ½ to 1 hour early.  That will account for “Murphy”.  For a traveling course . . . make sure you get there the day before with time to find the range and classroom the night before.  This too is meant to try and sidestep “Murphy” though with distance courses if things go sideways on your way there . . . it can get tough.

Don’t stay in a fleabag motel to “save money”.  If you can’t get a good night’s rest and meal before the next day’s course it will diminish your ability to get the most out of the course.  That doesn’t mean a 5-star hotel, it would imply taking a pass on the $50 “economy” housing.

One is none . . . two is one.   A favorite saying that allows for the whole “your gun is a mechanical device and mechanical devices fail” routine.  The course I’m taking is a carbine course . . . and I will be taking two carbines.  And two Glock 17s since part of the coursework is the transition from carbine to pistol.  Yes . . . I understand expense.  These particular weapons are, indeed, mine.  One is my primary and one my alternate.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow a weapon for the course from a friend.  But please . . . don’t go with just a single weapon . . . not that I would have any experience with that . . . nope . . . not me . . .

Know how to “run your gun”.  This does not mean you need to be an “expert”, especially if you are taking the coursework for exactly that purpose . . . to learn the weapon.  But please . . . don’t take it to the course and pull it out of the box for the very first time.  So, what’s involved with “running the gun”.  Let me roll through my carbine as an example.

Know how to load your magazines.  Yes . . . I know you can’t believe anyone wouldn’t know such a simple thing . . . Be able to clear the standard malfunctions – failure to fire, failure to eject, failure to load and, for the carbine, a spent casing that rides over the bolt.  Know how to load your weapon, and how to unload it and show clear.

Have your weapon zeroed.  Yes, for a carbine class virtually the first shooting drill is used to check your zero . . . but you shouldn’t have to actually zero the weapon.  For me I use the 50/200 yard zero process at 10 yards. I’ve been happy with this process as far as effectiveness and ease.  Zero both your optic and iron sights.  I typically zero the optic first, crank on the iron sights to co-witness the sights and then shoot to confirm and a final adjust.  That works for me . . . but I will also listen to the recommendation of the instructors come Friday, because THAT IS WHY I AM GOING . . . TO LEARN FROM OTHER INSTRUCTORS!

Check all your lights.  Make sure you have good batteries in your flashlight and weapon mounted light . . . and a spare of each light . . . and a spare set of batteries.

Clean your weapons.  Both the carbine and Glock 17 in this particular case for me.  And, while cleaning check for wear, damage and then properly lube them.  For a training course that expects to send around 1,000 rounds of .223 downrange, heavier lube of the bolt lugs is recommended.  Spend the time and get your weapons ready for a couple days of heavy use.

Ammunition Matters.  The course specs will give you the minimum caliber weapon and the type of bullet – some courses require frangible ammunition in some cases.  Buy reliable ammo not just the cheapest on the shelf.  I have a personal fondness for PMC, Magtech and Blazer.  That is what I buy and I’ve been pleased with the result.  At a course a couple years back a fellow bought surplus 5.56 military ammunition.  Military ammo has primers that are much “hotter” that commercial ammo.  The result?  In virtually every magazine there was at least one round where the primer literally exploded into pieces blowing back into the bolt lugs and locking the bolt forward.  This required the shooter to “mortar” his weapon and on one occasion he forgot to close the stock down and simply broke it making the weapon inoperable.  He had not brought a spare but the instructor had a limited number of loaners that he made use of while a fellow student brought an extra 1000 rounds that he bought so he could carry on.  Don’t be “that guy/gal”.

Take enough ammo.  My experience is that the 1,000-round count usually ends up to be 800-900 . . . or 1,200 – 1,500.  Take extra.

Dress for Success.  My lovely wife likes to ding me on my “shooter pants”, my “shooter boots”  . . . heavy sigh.  My typical advice to students is to wear “sturdy” shoes, long pants, high neck shirts, a ball cap.  Wear a real, honest to goodness, gun belt.  Thick and heavy enough to carry what you are going to hang on it.  For this course I’ll have my Glock 17, two magazines of 9mm for it and two magazines of .223 for what would typically be somewhere from 10 rounds to 30 rounds.  You might also include a dump pouch for your magazines (or big honkin’ rear pockets) and perhaps a minimal blowout kit.  This translates to WEIGHT.  Over the past couple years, as I have added weight to my belt for this type of coursework, I’ve also added some belt clip suspenders.  It’s helped keep things in place specially in movement drills or drills that require you to flow between prone, sitting, kneeling and standing in a rapid fashion.  Honestly you won’t now if any of this gear will really work for you unless you spend some range time prior to the course wringing things out.  DO THE WORK!

Take a Boo-Boo kit and a Blow Out Kit.  I’ve been shooting on ranges since 1968.  I’ve never witnessed a shooting on a range.  That doesn’t mean that one won’t happen this week.  If you’ve not taken coursework in how to respond to an extra hole suddenly appearing in you or a shooting partner . . . please . . . find one, take it and carry appropriate gear.  The Boo-Boo kit is for “slide bites” or other little inconveniences.  The Blow Out Kit is to keep the “red” in until the professionals arrive.  Take this crap serious!  Do not let a friend go home in a Ziploc simply because you knew that nothing was going to happen on your range trip.

Have good standard safety gear.  “Eyes and Ears” . . . have good ones.  Yes, good is a bit more expensive . . . but they last longer and protect better.  Spend the money!

Water bottles, sun screen, sweat towel and a couple Cliff Bars.  Hydration, especially this time of year, is serious business.  This Gunsite 123 course is rated for 3 days, 8 hours minimum each.  Most on the range.  Temps are projected to be in the upper 80s, low 90s.  In similar circumstances, you will pour water out of your body.  Drinking a gallon of water during the range time would be a minimum IMHO.  I like Nalgene bottles and have carried them for decades on range trips, camping trips and paddles.  Bottom line have water.  The military first gave me a “sweat towel” as part of my basic issue when I hit Vietnam.  I’ve carried them ever since.  On a range they are great for sweat, a dry place to set a weapon on a wet or snowy range, they function as a sitting pad . . . well worth the bulk.  Sun screen . . . should be obvious.  Do you have some in your range bag?  I also like to throw a couple Cliff Bars in a cargo pocket or in my range bag should I run out of gas.  It’s cheap insurance.

Cleaning and Maintenance Equipment.  Take an appropriate cleaning kit for your weapons.  Honestly, it’s a tossup for spare parts.  I typically do not take a parts kit since I take a fully configured backup weapon.  But high-volume days on a range can take a toll.  Chances are you’ve spent a good chunk of change on your coursework . . . take care of your tools.

Fitness.  It’s no accident that I leave this to last since it is one place where I need to do much better.  I have no doubt I am fit enough to shoot the course, or I wouldn’t take it.  That said, I promise myself I’ll “get in shape” for “next year” only to fine that next year has arrived . . . and I’ve failed myself.  Don’t follow my example.  One other consideration for me was that I took a 24-hour carbine course this past November . . . and did some pretty nasty stuff to my right knee.  It’s better but I will take both a brace and some fitted compression supports to lend a hand this week.  Bottom line – pay attention to your body and take care of yourself.

Finally . . . Have Fun!  Yep, coursework can be exhausting.  It can be stressful.  It should push you to failure once in a while.  It should be challenging.  And you should also be FUN as well.

I’m sure I’ve missed something . . . but I hope you get the gist of the process.  Oh . . . yeah . . . MAKE LISTS!!!  Cause it’s hard to remember everything on the fly, so don’t.  For example, I’ve lists for lightweight back packing, base camping, “luxury” family camping, single and multiple day paddles . . . all of which I’ve refined over the past 40-ish years.  And, I have them for coursework also.  Make a list, review it over a few days and then pack a day early as you review the list.

Go forth, train, enjoy, learn, make friends . . . and then start thinking about next years coursework! 

A few additional links: