Archives for August 2012

Is Specializing Your Skill-Set a Mistake?

Photo Credit: DrJimiGlide

Should you be training generic or specialized skills when dealing with firearms? What exactly does this mean? I’m talking about determining the benefits of learning the best way to run your gun vs the best way of running any gun.

An example: there are several methods of executing a reload. You can use the overhand (aka “slingshot”) method, use your firing hand thumb on the slide release, or use your support hand thumb on the slide release. All three options have advantages and disadvantages. Do you decide which method to train based on the features of the gun you use most, or based on what is most applicable to any gun you might encounter?

The overhand method is perhaps the most generic. Not all guns have slide stops or have slides that lock back. Additionally the overhand reload skill works exactly the same as our tap-rack-bang malfunction clearance. On the other hand, this method is the slowest of the three options if you do have a slide release due to the huge amount of movement required to handle an otherwise simple task.

The firing hand thumb is the fastest method provided the slide release is positioned such that you can reach it with this thumb. You are moving your thumb less than an inch to perform what requires movement of an entire hand when using the overhand method. The downside is that the same muscle memory can theoretically cause you to inadvertently stop the slide from locking back.

The third option, using the support hand thumb, works across a variety of handguns that have a slide release, though you may have issues if you have trained specifically with guns that position the slide release in a specific spot. This is almost as fast as the firing hand thumb but is slightly more generic.

I have seen top tier trainers advocate all three methods.

Why is generic better?

If you intend to be shooting a variety of guns, generic skills are better. If you carry a pocket pistol in the summer and a duty pistol in the winter (or perhaps carry a pocket pistol when not working, etc.), you want a set of skills that translates to both weapon systems easily.

Special forces and high-speed-low-drag operators might need to work with a variety of firearms to operate with indigenous weapon systems to perform their missions. Some people just don’t get to choose their tools.

Why is specialized better?

Performance. If you know you will be operating a specific firearm all the time, adapting to that firearm means you can get the most performance out of it. Being faster and more efficient can be the difference between life and death, so maximizing performance should improve your chances greatly.

Personally I carry either a Glock 26 or 17 depending on wardrobe. Both pistols have the same control in the same place. I choose to specialize and use the firing hand thumb as it is the fastest and most reliable for me. I’m most likely to use my guns to defend myself. I don’t mind my reload performance suffering a bit when using my ‘range toys’ if it means I can have maximum performance when using the tools I carry.

Being generic without a need only hurts you

For me, generic skills would reduce my performance with the tools I am most likely to use in favor of tools I am unlikely to use. Does that make sense?

Are you really expecting a ‘battlefield pickup’ to be your tool for survival? Most of us will never live the plot of the Die Hard movies… prepare yourself to use the tools you carry every day.

Customization of your tools

Extended magazine releases, extended slide stops, and improved triggers are commonly used to improve pistols. Oddly, the people who make these customizations can often be proponents of generic skills. If you want to be able to handle any firearm, why make your pistol specialized? Logic would dictate that keeping your pistol as stock as possible makes it easier to transition to another of the same model, if not a completely different pistol.

Changes to your gun to maximize performance are very similar to changes to your skills for the same purpose. Make sure you are at your best with the tools you are going to need the most.

Counterpoint: long guns

One counterpoint I must mention: generic skills might be an advantage with a long gun. I’m far less likely to use a long gun in a violent confrontation. For most people that will use a long gun, there is a far greater chance they might be using one that isn’t theirs than with a pistol. The proliferation of AR-15 type rifles means that a ‘battlefield pickup’ is probably an AR-15.

Learn to run your AR-15 with stock controls (lose the BAD lever or ambi firecontrols). Unless your unit or department standardizes on these upgrades, you are far more likely to pick up a gun without them.

This all boils down to one simple concept: if you are training to use the tools you carry, then optimize your performance around them. If you train to be proficient with any tool you pick up, then generic skills are justifiable.

Ultimately generic skills are great, if you have a need for them. Otherwise they just hinder your performance with the tools you are likely to use. Carefully weigh specialization and see if it helps you.

The Secret of Training: Train to Suck Less

Photo Crddit: DrJimiGlide

I have recently come to a conclusion in my own training. Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t many ways to do something right, just many ways to do something wrong. Countless individuals strive to get it right thinking that there are many right answers. But in many cases, that simply isn’t true.

I’ve found that rather than trying to perfect a skill, we are all really just trying to suck less at whatever it is we are doing. Perfection is impossible to achieve; after all, how do we define perfection?

Most skills are subjective, and even measurable skills have no clearly defined upper bounds. The fastest shooters in the world right now might be able to draw onto a certain size target and get x number of hits in y number of seconds. Who can say whether that is “perfect”?

With a little more training they could probably beat their best.

The continuing theme in training though is the constant fight against the downward slope that inactivity causes. If you train every day you might improve, if you train a few times a week you maintain, and if you train less you get worse.

Anyone at the lower levels of a given skill set look up to the best of the best and can say that their actions look effortless. The truth is that these individuals really are expending a huge effort just like the rest of us when we try and push ourselves to the edge of our game.

Despite what you think you are training to do, you are really training to be slightly less bad at whatever you do, not to achieve perfection. Improve the consistency with which you perform, and you make your best days as well as your worst days better.

Every instructor might have their own ideas about a given skill, so of course there can be more than a single “right way” of doing something. But my point is that these “right ways” are really just less wrong than the alternatives. Don’t look at the training spectrum as a multitude of right answers and even more wrong answers. Instead we have an infinity of wrong answers in training, some are just less wrong than others.

Examining My Load-Out

Recently I took a pistol/carbine class taught by Larry Vickers. As this was my first foray into this kind of training, I had a lot of equipment to acquire. Before filling in the gaps and buying equipment, my first objective was to come up with a goal (or theme) for the equipment I was buying.

My mission profile

The gear people tend to bring to carbine classes ranges from a couple AR15 mag pouches on their belt to full on chest and belt rigs including rifle plates and just about anything they could imagine. Most of the people in a class like this don’t have a specific mission in mind. How a cop prepares and trains will differ greatly from how a civilian or a U.S. Marine prepares.

When a civilian comes to a class decked out to the max, it really makes you wonder what exactly they are thinking. Is their equipment logical for the situations they might encounter, or are they in the class to play fantasy camp?

When I set out to prepare my equipment, I started with my mission profile. I’m a civilian and unlikely to be paroling or engaging in any sort of prolonged engagement with a rifle. If I need my rifle it is to fight off armed home invaders or, slightly less likely, to deal with an active shooter situation. In either case what I need differs greatly from what I would need if I was planning on marching off to war.

To meet this mission profile, my goal was to set up my gear in a way that I could easily throw over my existing CCW gear. If it takes me more than 30 seconds to be ready to go then I am doing something wrong.

My gear

This is my rifle

My carbine for the class was a custom build (as are all my AR-15 type rifles). This one was built on a matching set of Essential Arms receivers, Essential Arms LPK, and Daniel Defense Barrel.

Here are the specs:

  • 16” Daniel Defense Mid-length Barrel

  • BCM Full-Auto Bolt Carrier Group

  • Collapsible Stock

  • Magpul MOE Midlength Handguard (green)

  • Troy BUIS

  • Aimpoint Pro

  • MOE Rail VFG

  • VTAC Sling

  • GG&G Sling Thing (Rear)

I found this rifle to be very reliable, running quite well even when it was drier than it should have been.

The VTAC sling got the job done for a quick adjust sling, and it worked fairly well for switch shoulder drills. A few times I missed the adjustment lanyard, but for the moment I’m attributing that to my own inexperience with it. The GG&G Sling Thing makes a great rear attachment point, providing a slot for a QD sling swivel on a standard collapsible stock.

In general the rifle handled very well, and the MOE Handguards I ordered would probably remain on the rifle if it wasn’t for the Troy rail already being bought and working well for me.

Glock 17

For a pistol I used my 2nd generation Glock 17. They sure don’t make them like they used to. This pistol has been through a lot and keeps ticking. The only problem with my Glock is the sights. It still sports the stock sights, and I’m seeing more and more why this is a problem. I carried it strong side in a Comp-Tac belt holster with a spare mag in one of Comp-Tac’s numerous pistol pouch options. I’ve always been a big fan of Comp-Tac, and every holster I have from them does the job well.

The rest of my gear

In order to fulfill the quick gear-up profile, I went with the BCM 03 MSF split front chest harness. This worked well for me for two reasons. Being split front it’s very easy to put on, just like any vest you might wear. It also fits in such a way that my pistol carried in my IWB holster is still readily accessible. If I had to put this on in a hurry all I need to do is tuck in my shirt and I’m off to the races.

On the front of the harness I mounted a pair of Maxpedition pistol mag pouches, one each of single and double mag. These seemed to work fine and mounted pretty easily. The mags are not super easily accessible, but my intent was to use them to back fill my belt pouch – a role they performed superbly.

I’m also a fan of keeping medical gear on the body. I still haven’t found a good way to mount a small kit, but I definitely wanted a tourniquet that I could access easily. I ended up trying the 215 gear tourniquet holder to hold my CAT-T tourniquet. It held the tourniquet well all class without losing it. Experimenting at home, the holder works well for quick one handed access to the tourniquet.

For a dump pouch I tried the Maxpedition Rollypoly pouch. This pouch folds up to be not larger than a fist. I have a few complaints about this dump pouch. To place the pouch where I wanted it, I needed to wear it on my belt. This means I’m unlikely to get it on quickly. I suppose I would just dump my mags or use my shirt or a pocket if I needed to retain them, but it would be nice to be able to throw a pouch onto my belt without taking the belt off. When it is folded up, the pouch doesn’t take much space, and it is almost small enough to really consider for wearing all the time. Unfortunately it is just large enough to be very uncomfortable when seated in a car in the position I like to wear it: 7 o’clock behind my mag pouch.

When wringing out the rifle before the class, I noticed some heat and a few scratches on my hands so I figured I would try out some gloves. I bought some Mechanix “Original” gloves. They worked well and gave me good grip on everything I handled. Like most gloves they made some very fine motor skills difficult, but it wasn’t a huge problem for me. My biggest disappointment was when I realized early into using them that they were already damaged. The seam on the right hand palm near the thumb came unstitched. The gloves still did their job, but I expected more from a 20 dollar pair of gloves. Walmart gladly replaced them, and I have not seen a repeat of the issue on the new ones just yet.

What went right

Some equipment stands alone, but ultimately for a class like this, it’s how different pieces of equipment interact and work together that matters. Did the equipment I selected meet the mission profile I was trying to fill?

For the most part, yes. Everything was placed such that it was accessible. The split chest harness was not very bulky, and I felt like I could move fairly freely with it on. It was also pretty easy to quickly don.

What went wrong

I did have a few minor problems. The placement of my tourniquet caused it to pick up dirt from the range whenever I shot from a prone position. This in itself was a minor problem that became worse as I stood up. My Aimpoint pro sat at just a low enough position when slung that this dirt then would drop off the tourniquet and onto the rear aperture.

Not good.

A little bit of attention solved the problem (knock the dirt off prior to letting the rifle stay slung), and I’m not sure the issue was serious enough to warrant moving my gear around.

The dump pouch was also a huge pain as I had to run my belt through it. Would I really need the dump pouch if I were to ‘grab and go’? Probably not, but I would still prefer some easier attachment for the dump pouch. I’m still on the lookout for a suitable replacement.

Conclusion

My equipment got me through the class and looks as though it will work in the conditions I want it for. I was disappointed that the gloves would start falling apart so soon, so I’m hoping that was a fluke.

Other than the gloves, everything else held up to the class and functioned flawlessly.

Course Review: Larry Vickers Carbine/Pistol I

Photo Credit: Neshooters

A couple weekends ago I attended Larry Vickers’ Three Day Carbine/Pistol I class hosted by NEShooters in Pelham, NH. I have been looking for a class covering the Carbine locally, so when I saw this class become available I jumped on the registration.

To give you a little background about me, I have zero carbine training to date. I have plenty of rifle marksmanship experience, but nothing with running a long-gun in a combative manner. I also have fairly little pistol training. I took a few handgun modules at a summit a few years ago and have a little bit of handgun training from an ECQC perspective, but otherwise I’m self taught with the pistol.

Course Overview

Larry Vickers is definitely a proponent of marksmanship over speed. Look at his slogan if you need proof: speed is fine – accuracy is final. That pretty much sums up the theme of the class. This class wasn’t a bunch of slow shooting by any means, but the emphasis was definitely on not going faster than you could make mostly good hits.

This three day class followed a fairly simple format: day one was all about shooting the pistol, day two was mostly about the carbine, and day three was a 50/50 split. The trend throughout all three days was to cover a subject, shoot a variety of drills designed to practice and test that skill, followed by a competitive team drill or two.

The class consisted of 18 shooters who were broken into 3 teams of 6. For all of the team and individual shooting drills, Larry likes to use a scoring system that isn’t all that different from what is used in IDPA. Shots in the black are -0, on the paper but out of the black -1, on the target backer -3 and shots not taken or off the backer are -5.

One benefit of a system like this is it institutes a good method of measuring your performance. For the vast majority of skills, Larry has some sort of drill that can be used to measure your performance.

Day 1

The first day started with what Larry considers the most important fundamental: trigger control. A variety of partner drills were used to perfect trigger control. Throughout the day we also covered sight picture, shooting from the low ready position, draw-stroke, emergency reloads and “follow through, scan, and assess.”

Day 2

The second day started with the carbine, and included some pistol work later in the day. We started with zeroing before covering a variety of topics: prone, sitting, kneeling, standing, shooting from low ready, reloads, transitioning to the weak side and transition to sidearm.

Day 3

Day three was about 50/50 between the pistol and the carbine. The morning was a review of the previous material followed by malfunction drills on both pistol and carbine, and shooting on the move.

My Thoughts

I took a lot away from this course, specifically in the carbine realm. Not having had any previous instruction in this area, I had a lot to gain by taking this class. I now have a good starting point upon which I can base my own continuing training regime.

Larry definitely has mastered the shooting skills that he is trying to teach, and he also has strong opinions about various methods and equipment. If your method or equipment falls outside of what he prefers, you’re going to catch some flak for it. I shot the course with stock sights on my Glock 17 and Larry didn’t miss out on the chance to give me crap for it.

Don’t show up to a class like this if you are worried about getting your feelings hurt. If he tells you your equipment sucks, you can take his advice or turn the other cheek. Either way, any instructional situation like this is a chance for you to take in new material and opinions and filter them with your knowledge and experience.

Ultimately when you take any class, you’re likely to differ in opinion on something with the instructor. The key is to build a strong understanding of the subject matter and compile a variety of experiences and opinions so you can make an informed decision.

The one thing that disappointed me about this class was what I perceived as a sensation of limited instruction. Part of this hinged on the limited one-on-one time. Being in a class with 18 students for one instructor basically means you might get a few corrections over the course of the weekend. Unless you had a question to ask, you got limited assistance. This could simply be an effort to not over-coach people, but based on the free distribution of equipment criticisms, I have a feeling that isn’t the case.

The material covered seemed rather thin, especially on Friday. At times I couldn’t tell what skill level this class was really targeting. We covered basic topics but without the level of depth that I expected. For example on Friday we went over trigger control and sight picture with little discussion on stance or grip. Larry might not consider these aspects important in his view of pistol shooting, but to really cover the subject matter completely I think they should have been discussed. But perhaps my expectations were unrealistic since I don’t have a lot to compare this to.

This was also an expensive course compared to the several others I have taken. $700 for a three day class (plus range fee) seems a bit high in my book. If the class was in the $500-$600 range, it would have been more competitively priced, and a little easier to swallow. If you are looking for a basic carbine course, there are certainly cheaper options available that would probably get the job done for you.

In the end, this was an enjoyable class taught by an experienced instructor. If you can afford a class like this, and are willing to pay the premium for Larry’s expertise, you’ll definitely learn something new.

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