Archives for June 2012

The Secret to Training on the Road

Photo credit: sookie

I don’t travel very often. A vacation every once in a while and a trip for business here and there.  One of the biggest costs of traveling is the time it takes out of your training. Sure, sometimes you really need that break from training to help reset yourself and rest so you can go back at training hard again. But if you travel a lot, it can be a serious detriment to your progress.

If you are anything like me, getting home and seeing your skills or fitness droop because you haven’t been maintaining them is a frustrating thing. There are a few ways to keep your skills fresh despite being away.

Dry-fire in the hotel room

Traveling anywhere that allows you to carry your normal concealed weapon is a great thing. Not only do you have the means to protect yourself, it also enables you to dry-fire while on the road. Dry-fire is great practice, and it can be an excellent way to keep your skills up when traveling.

The most important thing when practicing with dry-fire is safety. Make sure no ammunition is anywhere near the firearm you are practicing with, and make sure you are practicing in a safe direction. In a hotel this can be very hard given the density of the building and the number of people around.

At home I prefer to dry-fire against a concrete wall or utilizing a wall with nothing valuable to shoot behind it. In a hotel this is often difficult to do. Keep an eye on which side of the hotel you are on, and what is located where. This past week when I was traveling, I noticed the hotel was located directly in front of a mountain and had a a great view of it from my window. Dry-fire at this wall was safe because even if a round somehow went off, it would end up in a huge berm not far from the hotel.

If this is not an option and you travel frequently, a Kevlar vest is a very portable option that can be hung or placed as a backstop. Its more expensive than some other options, but it does give you some peace of mind when dry-firing.

Just because you have a backstop doesn’t mean you can be lax in your safety. Dry-fire is inherently dangerous and requires your conscious commitment to safety. Your business trip or vacation will end quite quickly and uncomfortably if you fire a round in your hotel room.

You can get fancy when practicing in the hotel room like you do at home, or just work on sight alignment and working the trigger. Keep in mind that the more props you use in training, the more you’ll have to travel with. I prefer to travel light, so simple and abbreviated sessions are all I need to keep me from losing my skills.

Workout just about anywhere

Training isn’t just about shooting. For me it’s very much about getting into and staying in fighting shape. Most hotel fitness rooms are anemic in the equipment they provide. A couple of treadmills or an elliptical and maybe a weight machine or two.

Most of my own strength training comes in the form of body weight exercise: pull-ups, push-ups, squats, crunches, etc. All of these except pull-ups can be done easily in a hotel room. Do the same bodyweight routine minus the pull-ups, or find a bodyweight routine if you normally hit the weights. Just like at home, a park or playground can provide a great outdoor gym and is the perfect venue to work on your pull-ups.

Find a local range

If you are traveling for long enough it is probably worth looking for a local commercial range. Bring that Kevlar you bought to dry-fire in your hotel room and be prepared to pay through the nose for range time. If you really want to keep your skills up you need practice, so this might just be worth it for you.

Traveling can be necessary for work, and even for pleasure. Rather than have it put a stop to your training, find ways to maintain your skills on the road. Use these tips and come up with a plan before you pack for your trip.

Do you train while traveling? What tips can you suggest?

Equipment Issue? Three tips to make sure it’s not you

Photo Credit: The U.S. Army

A common experience around firearms is the blame game. Is it the rifle or pistol that’s shooting crappy groups, or is it you? Too often it’s the gray matter behind the gun that is causing the problems, but the blame is put on the equipment.

Still, there are times when it really is the gun that is to blame. Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing if you are the cause of a problem, or if it is the equipment. When you are an experienced shooter, this determination gets easier as you have years of evidence of good shooting to fall back on. For the new shooter, this can be a difficult problem to solve.

There are a few steps you can take to help narrow down the culprit and save yourself some frustration. If you are shooting a new gun for the first time and run into issues, or your groups suddenly open up or move, here are a few ways to help identify the cause.

Check for loose parts

The most likely cause of a moving group or a group that opens up is loose sights. Check the front and rear sight or your scope and make sure they are tight. I have seen shooters not realize their sights were loose until their front sight or scope walks itself off the gun.

If you are frustrated at your performance, double check the sights before you get too upset.

The sights aren’t the only part that can come loose. Check that barrels are secure (on rifles) and for excessive slop in the action on pistols. Some rifles like the 10/22 can lose accuracy if the action screw (or any other mechanism) holding the action in the stock becomes loose.

These are easy things to check and are a good first step if you are having problems.

Have someone else shoot the gun

If the issue truly is the gray matter behind the gun, having another experienced shooter try the gun should prove it. Try to have someone you know is a better shooter try the gun, or just go for an increased sample size and get multiple shooters to try it.

An issue with the gun will become quickly apparent if no one else can shoot it better.

In the absence of other experienced shooters, shooting from a shooting vice or ransom rest is great alternative that takes any issues you may have out of the picture.

Shoot a different gun

Sometimes neither a rest or another shooter is available. When this happens, your best bet is finding another gun to shoot. Maybe it’s a completely different gun, or just another of the same model. If you can demonstrate the skills needed on a different firearm, you can either eliminate yourself as the problem or start narrowing down skills that might be specific to the gun you are having trouble with.

An alternate gun isn’t a perfect test, but whenever I feel like I’m doing horribly with a new gun, I like to go back to a known standard. I pick up something that I know I can shoot well to prove my technique hasn’t taken a vacation without telling me.

Poor results from your shooting can be very frustrating. Knowing how to resolve these issues quickly and calmly not only helps you get back to being productive faster, but it also eliminates unnecessary self doubt.

How do you identify whether an issue is you or the gun? Post a comment below and share.

The Secret to Setting up a Dry-Fire Area

I am obviously a big fan of dry-fire and dry-practice. I have proclaimed its usefulness, and how much it has helped me in my own pursuits to improve my shooting skills. What I would like to talk about today is one secret to getting the most out of your dry-fire practice: a well organized dry-fire area.

Setting aside a place in the house for dry-fire can simply make your practice safer, but it also allows you to get more done in a shorter period of time. With a designated dry-fire area, you can get far more out of your practice than a lonely wall might give you.

Improved Safety

Safety is one of the biggest reasons to set aside a place in the house for dry-fire. Ideally you need a backstop even without live shooting, because accidents do happen. Select a part of your home where you will have peace of mind knowing what is beyond your target.

Dry-firing against an interior wall is probably the riskiest thing you can do unless you live alone. Pointing a gun through a wall that might be the only thing between you and your wife, husband, children, or other loved ones is not a great idea.

Your best options would be something like a concrete wall (say in a basement) or an exterior wall with nothing valuable behind it.

Your dry-fire area should contain no ammunition. It is your personal responsibility to make sure no live ammunition enters your dry-fire area. If you have no ammunition, then the risk of an accidental or negligent discharge is significantly reduced.

Make use of good targets

Another advantage to a dedicated dry-fire area is being well-organized. When dry-firing you will want to make the best possible use of good targets. Scaled down targets of various shapes and sizes are great for practicing presentation of the pistol and transitioning between targets.

One of my favorites is this scaled down F.A.S.T. target put together by Todd Louis Green from Pistol-Training.com. If you are training more for competition than self-defense, scaled down IDPA or USPSA targets are also an excellent idea.

The advantage to your own dedicated area is that you can post all of these targets simultaneously. You can post targets scaled to different sizes (to represent different distances) and be able to do all your dry practice without needing to change targets.

Necessary equipment

A good dry-fire session might include some timed practice, so you should add a shot timer with a good par feature (or a PC application that can mimic the same thing). I use this flash application from predatortactical.com.

Barriers for good dry-fire

One thing that is missing from many dry-fire routines is barrier work. Do you dry-practice making use of cover? This can be difficult without good preparation.

My recommendation is to build yourself some soft lightweight barriers out of large pieces of foam board or cardboard. A lightweight barrier is easily moved into your practice area, or out of the way for storage.

In order to be best setup to use these tools you should consider a small table, perhaps an end-table or a small folding table. This gives you a place to put any electronics you might use, but also a place to stuff magazines.

Wait, did he just say stuff magazines?

Do yourself a favor and buy some snap-caps. If you are practicing pistol skills, not only will these give you a solid way to practice malfunction clearance (tap rack and bang doesn’t work so well on an empty mag), but it will also make practicing reloads easier.

Ultimately having a dummy round to chamber will allow you to practice moving as fast as possible, and verify that you are actually successfully reloading.

Space and movement

Practicing staying on the sights while moving is another skill that is often left out of most dry-practice sessions.

Make your space ideal for practicing movement by keeping an open and clear floor. Ideally you would have something like a 10ft x 10ft space to enable you to move in a variety of patterns while practicing keeping your sights locked on the target and dry-firing.

While we’re on the subject of space – another quick tip is to use a room with carpeted floors. Not only will the carpets protect your mags as you practice reloading, but it’s not as likely to be dinged up by them either. If you prefer staying out of the doghouse, avoid dropping mags on a nice tile or hardwood floor! I find my fastest practice sessions send magazines flying across the room, so keep fancy furniture and decor around at your own peril.

Dry-fire is a great way to develop firearms manipulation skills. You can improve your draw-stroke, trigger control, sight-alignment, reloading, malfunction clearance, shooting around obstacles, transitioning between targets, shooting on the move and a variety of other skills.

Set yourself up with a dedicated place to practice, and you should improve the benefits you gain from dry-fire.

Do you have a dedicated dry-fire area? How did you set it up?

What Everybody Ought to Know About Preparing for a carbine course

Photo Credit: DrJimiGlide

Next month I am signed up to take my first ever carbine course – a Carbine/Handgun course with Larry Vickers. I have great familiarity with how to get the most out of a rifle, but I really don’t have any true experience learning how to run a carbine properly.

I have taken pistol courses before, but there is a lot more going on in a carbine course. The equipment requirements are much more significant (we are after all running two guns), and the total number of skills that are involved is exponentially higher than just running a handgun.

Making preparations

When showing up to any class, it’s definitely worth investing some time upfront to make sure you arrive prepared. A three-day class like the one I am taking comes with a hefty price-tag, especially when you start adding up the ammo costs. Don’t waste the opportunity by coming unprepared.

Gear

A carbine class has much steeper equipment requirements than a simple pistol class. You need both a carbine and a pistol, some number of mags for each, a sling for your carbine, a huge pile of ammunition, a holster, and some sort of load bearing vest or belt.

When preparing for a class like this, there are four things you need to accomplish when getting your gear together.

1. Identify what you need

Scour the class listing and determine exactly what equipment is required for the class. The class instructor will generally list exactly what he or she expects you to bring. Don’t skimp on meeting these requirements.

It is also a good idea to read after-action reports and course reviews from other shooters who have taken this class in the past. Often another shooter’s insights into what they found to be useful or what they wish they had can save you a ton of pain. This also leads into the next point…

2. Research the gear

Once you have identified what equipment you need, it’s time to start selecting which products you will choose to meet your requirements. The number of holsters on the market, for example, is huge. Not all holsters are created equally so spend some solid time researching what is available and what will fill your needs perfectly.

Gear can be expensive and just adds to the already mounting cost of attending a course like this. Do your best to select items you only need to buy once. Better to spend a little extra money now than to find out your purchases were wasted on shoddy items that will need replacing. If you already have something that will adequately meet your needs, don’t buy something special just for the class.

3. Buy your gear

Now the fun part: spending money. Shop around so you don’t overpay, but definitely get your stuff on order sooner rather than later.

The last thing you want to do is to show up without your kit. The class I’m taking is in July, and I have just about everything I think I’ll need in hand and have had it in hand for a few weeks now.

4. Test your gear

Once you get your gear, make sure you set it up and test it. Don’t show up to the class and put all of your gear together for the first time.

The first goal of testing your gear is to make sure it all works from a basic level. If your gear won’t function together, or you can’t operate it, then you have a problem. Maybe something doesn’t work like you thought it would, or just doesn’t fit (for example a MOLLE mag pouch doesn’t work with the dimensions of your vest).

Once everything is on, you want to make sure the equipment is comfortable. Sure it must be functional, but remember that a three day class is a long time to be wearing uncomfortable gear. Maybe things are too heavy or just dig into you… make sure you identify and fix these issues now while you can.

Once you determine that your gear is comfortable, you want to spend some time trying to use it. Start off with dry fire/dry practice. Can you get magazines out of pouches and into your guns? Does your tactical sling work for you when you try transitioning to your pistol? Can you assume prone and kneeling positions with your gear on? All of these things matter and should be identified early.

The last thing you want is to be fighting your gear while taking your expensive class. You need to be a sponge ready to absorb all the instruction you can get. If you are distracted by failing gear, you won’t be getting the most out of the instruction you came for.

You also need to test your firearms. Don’t show up with a carbine and a pistol that have never been shot before. Put 500-1000 rounds through each and make sure they operate without issue. A semi-functional gun can do a lot to make your experience a crappy one.

Prepare your skills

Gear isn’t the only thing you need to bring with you to a class. You also need to bring some level of skill. Most instructors have a certain expectation of what you are bringing to the class. In any course beyond a basic pistol intro type class, you need to show up safe. If you can’t handle a firearm without putting everyone in the tri-state area at risk, then you need to get some help for that before you step foot on the range for your class.

Most instructors also have some basic expectations for skills. Try to identify what those skills are by reading class reviews and the class listing. Practice those skills before showing up and make sure you have them.

Don’t be that guy

Whatever you do, don’t be that guy who shows up to an intermediate or advanced level class with no skills and an inordinate need for attention and assistance.

Nothing frustrates someone more than having their expensive class squandered because some nitwit doesn’t know the basics or how their gear works.

Skills to be familiar with

Regardless of whether you have taken a class or not, you want to have some basic skills worked out. Many instructors will ‘test’ you to see what you brought to the show. Don’t be figuring these things out for the first time at the class, show up with some base level stuff:

  1. Drawing from your holster

  2. Accessing pouches

  3. Shouldering/shooting your rifle

  4. Operating your sling

  5. Adjusting your sights

  6. Malfunction clearance

  7. Any other topic that you expect to be covered in the class*

*This could be anything from low light shooting to shooting around barricades, etc. Be careful and tread lightly here. The last thing you want to do is ingrain a bad habit before taking a class. You do want to show up with enough competence to not slow the class down and have a good starting point to build from.

All of these things can and should be practiced dry, but also ideally in live fire as well.

Be prepared to enjoy your class

All of this adds up to one thing: enjoying your class and getting the most out of it. Three days (or two or one) is not a lot of time to learn a set of skills. Set yourself up to learn as much as possible and get the most from it.

You are paying for the class, why not take advantage of it?

What do you do to prepare for a carbine class?

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