High Speed Hold on Posting

You probably noticed a bit less posting happening. The blog is being put on hold for a bit while I complete my separation from the Air Force, move to Virginia, and start my next career. I won’t be terribly long of a gap, but it will be one nonetheless.

A few items I plan to discuss after the break include:

  • Battle belt revision
  • Virginia CCW permitting experience
  • DMTR/Musket revision (again)
  • Completing the 18″ project (henceforth known as the Minuteman Rifle)
  • Nonstandard shooting positions
  • Review of CZ P01
  • More training AARs
  • Whatever else I think of

I will see you all after the intermission.

Low Power Variables vs Low Power Fixed Magnification

With my recent purchase of the newest generation of ACOG, and my ignoring the similarly priced low-power variable market, I thought it would be worth posting some of my thoughts on the two competing segments.

Browsing optics discussions on various gun boards would have you think that the age of the low power fixed magnification optic are gone. As one SME in the shooting world put it, “The ACOG was the perfect optic for pre 2004 conflict.” Even in my own article about different types of optics, I opined that low power fixed magnification (which I dubbed Class II optics) represented the skill set of the last generation of riflemen, before our focus turned to more close quartered combat.

Low power variable (LPV) optics have dominated the market in recent years. What started as a new concept useful for competitive shooters slowly worked its way into military units with the leeway to purchase whatever they wanted. Usage by these military units caused the civilian market to take notice. This started cycle whereby many companies entered the market and began innovating and driving prices down through competition.

The downside of the LPV has always been a combination of cost, weight, and durability. The added mechanisms required to change magnification meant introducing complexity and weak points. Combat-grade optics designed to survive harsh conditions necessitated extensive engineering, which increased cost. Up until very recently, you were unlikely to find a combat-worthy LPV for less than $2K. Competition in the market has brought that price closer to $1K, though, which directly competes with the ACOG market.

With that in mind, why would anyone choose to go with a low power fixed magnification optic when it is possible to get a scope of comparable durability and optical quality for about the same amount of money?

Understanding Intangibles

31gQx5KTLUL

For the sake of this discussion, I’m ignoring the market segment below $800. For now, I am purely talking about comparing optics like the ACOG and SpecterOS 4x to LPV scopes like the Vortex Razor and Nightforce 1-4x. Below $800, there are a lot of great LPV options from SWFA, Trijicon (the TR-24 has come down in price quite a bit), Leupold, and others. In that price bracket, there isn’t really much a difference between the fixed magnification and variable magnification scopes.

Once we cross into the realm of “enthusiast,” “prosumer,” or “professional” optics, things get more interesting.

We can list out all the specs on the various optics in these categories, examining weights, fields of view, illumination, reticles, parallax adjustment (or lack thereof), and other tangible items. The truth, though, is that those things simply don’t matter as much in this bracket. In this category, it has much more to do with personal preference.

In the category of low power fixed magnification, optics tend to be lighter, brighter, more compact, and simpler in use. Most of the ACOG line, even the tiny TA-33 that weighs a scant 7 oz, have objective lenses wider than the average LPV (24 mm). That makes a difference in low light conditions, especially when it comes to target identification. Small sizes reduce snag hazards and overall bulk.

LPV scopes tend to be slightly more versatile for the roles they can be used in, and they often have more refined reticles, but come at the expense of increased weight and size. In general, I find the illumination to be weaker (and more short lived due to smaller batteries), but that is with a sample size of three. I know there are some LPV options out there that are exceptionally bright (especially if they are fiber optic powered). LPV scopes might be friendlier to those with poor eyes, as things like parallax and ocular lens focus can be adjusted.

These are not absolutes, as there are some overlapping features depending on models in question, but this is a pretty good guideline to understand.

IMG_0888

So who should choose what?

Having spent a lot of time with both LPV and fixed magnification, I can’t really see myself doing without either. Were I to be stuck with one rifle and scope for every task for the rest of my days, I would probably tend towards the variable market. But, since I’m not, I like having the option of taking a lighter and more compact scope with wide field of vision for some tasks. I like the simplicity of shouldering the rifle and firing, without worrying about fiddling with magnification settings or turrets that might have been bumped off of my zero.

In general, I would say the difference between users is this:

  • If you want magnification, but tend to stick to the 1x end of things (either via RDS or leaving a LPV at 1x), then stick to a LPV. I would avoid an RDS with magnifier arrangement.
  • If you tend to want magnification all the time, or have an LPV you leave on the high setting most of the time, and prefer the simplicity of shoulder-and-fire function while keeping a more compact package, consider a fixed magnification scope. You can always pair it with a mini RDS if you want to have that multi-role capability with minimal additional weight.
  • If you want magnification most of the time, precision is a priority, and you intend on fiddling with windage and elevation a lot, go with an LPV designed to do it. These will tend to have better reticles (MRAD/MOA) and matched turrets.
  • If you don’t know where you fall on this continuum, then it doesn’t really matter what you pick. In this case, I would consider getting a more inexpensive LPV and see how you tend to use it. As I said before, the sub $800 bracket has a lot of great options to start with and allow you to explore your preferences.

When I started this journey a few years ago, I was sure that I knew exactly what I wanted. I did my homework on internet, and I purchased quality optics. Ironically, one of those scopes doesn’t get used anymore and the other has been relegated to more of a backup role. The more experience I gain, the more I prefer the simplicity of grab-and-go without knobs and such to fiddle with. For that reason, I’ve been sitting strongly in the camp of fixed magnification scopes.

 

Initial Impression: Trijicon TA-110 3.5×35 LED ACOG

TA110 ACOG Right Side

As a retirement gift of sorts for my leaving the Air Force, my [awesome] wife bought this scope. The TA-110 is essentially a battery powered TA-11, which has been among the most popular ACOG models in the competition world due to its balance of longer eye relief and good field of view. I mentioned the TA-110 briefly in the Spring of last year, but I didn’t have plans to purchase one.

I had originally wanted to pick up the dual illuminated fiber optic model, the TA-11. I recommended that optic to a friend, and I was suitably impressed with it on his rifle. However, the more I thought about my real world uses (and not TEOTWAKI zombie apocalypse), I realized that I find more utility in user controllable battery illumination. This allows me to turn off the illumination when I need more precision (as opposed to the notable blooming of the fiber optic in full sun), and also lets me keep good illumination when lighting is poor. This question of battery vs fiber optic illumination was ultimately the deciding factor in why I went with the ELCAN over the TA-11 back in 2015.

I purchased the green horseshoe-dot reticle calibrated for 308. You may wonder why I would buy a 308 calibrated reticle and put it on a 5.56 rifle. The answer is that the 308 BDC is actually a closer match to 77gr SMK and 75gr TAP than the standard 5.56 reticle. That’s not to say that it’s perfect match. Some work will have to be done to determine actual holdover points, but it is closer. Using the 308 reticle also gives me the interesting option of mounting the optic on my M1A or 308 AR.

These are the specs found on Trijicon’s web site:

Magnification 3.5x
Objective Size (mm) 35mm
Bullet Drop Compensator Yes
Length (in) 8.0 in.
Weight (oz) 16.8 oz. w/out Mount
Illumination Source LED
Reticle Pattern Horseshoe Dot
Day Reticle Color Red
Night Reticle Color Red
Calibration .308
Bindon Aiming Concept Yes
Eye Relief (in) 2.4 in. / 61.0mm
Exit Pupil (mm) 0.39 in. / 10.0mm
Field of View (Degrees) 5.5
Field of View @ 100 yards (ft) 28.9
Mount Comes With TA51
Housing Material Forged Aluminum
Batteries Single AA Lithium or Alkaline Battery
Battery Life Over 12,000 hours on setting #4 using supplied alkaline battery at 21ºC (70ºF)
Adjustment Increments (Range to Target) 2 click per in. @ 100m
Adjustment Range 40 MOA Total Travel
Illumination Settings 6
Dimensions (LxWxH) 8.0 x 3.0 x 2.6 in, 203 x 76 x 66mm

With the notable exception of using AA Lithium (or Alkaline) batteries, which last about 12,000 hours (about 500 days) on setting #4, these specs are almost identical to the TA-11. Setting #4, by the way, appears to be a great general purpose illumination level for overcast days and evenings. Setting #6 is extremely bright, as you will see in the photos.

The ACOG arrived in a nice hard sided case with egg crate foam. Upon opening the case, my immediate gut reaction was, “Ooooohhhhh Niiiiiiiicceee.” That instant positive feeling was admittedly lacking when I first received my ELCAN a couple years ago.

The TA-110 weights two ounces more than the TA-11 due to the battery housing. Trijicon supplied an Energizer AA Lithium with the optic. With the TA-51 mount, the total package weights 21.35 ounces. The scope is no lightweight by any means. For comparison, my ELCAN SpecterOS 4x weighs 18.85 ounces. I like that Trijicon saw fit to include retention lanyards on the turrets and battery cap.

Size wise, the TA-110 is a bit larger than my ELCAN.

ELCAN SpecterOS 4x next to Trijicon TA110

With the deletion of the fiber optic housing from the TA-110’s body, Trijicon has added a second forward position for mounting a miniature red dot sight like the RMR.

 

Important to me is eye relief, and the TA-110 delivers. I find it much more comfortable to get behind than my ELCAN, and the sweet spot seems much more forgiving. That’s not to say the SpecterOS is bad by any means, but the TA-110 is just excellent.

ThroughTA110

When it comes to illumination, the TA-110 is very bright. There is an off position between each of its six settings. This allows me to find the setting that I like, click one notch off of it to remove power, and then quickly get back to my preferred illumination level when needed. The illumination knob is large and easy to grab, though not quite as large as the Specter’s. I find the illumination on the TA-110 to be brighter than the ELCAN. The green reticle jumps out at me much better than the smaller red center crosshair of the SpecterOS.

I took some comparison photos at 11:30 AM and 4:45 PM. Unfortunately, the mid day shots were ruined by large amounts of glare (you can see it a bit in the photo above). The evening shots were better. The illumination on both is at full strength, and I used my iPhone 6s for these. It was my perception that the ACOG appeared just a bit clearer and brighter than the ELCAN under these conditions. However, after cleaning dust and debris from the Specter’s lenses, there is much less difference.

You will notice that the field of view on the SpecterOS is slightly wider than the TA-110. That was expected, and the difference probably isn’t enough to worry about. Something I haven’t quite figured out is why the photos through the ACOG to be more magnified than the ones taken through the SpecterOS, since the ACOG is 3.5x and the ELCAN is 4x. It is probably my own lack of skill with taking such pictures.

I mounted the TA-110 on my BCM 20″ upper and moved the SpecterOS to a 16″ BCM lightweight upper and set off for a range day. The TA-110 performed well, though I did run into the rather infamous issue of ACOG adjustments needing to be “knocked in.” I would make adjustments on the turrets and have to fire a few shots to see where they really ended up. I didn’t help matters by forgetting to bring an actual zeroing target with gridlines, so I had to improvise with Appleseed “Red Coat” targets.

I was able to squeeze a good bit of precision out of the horseshoe-dot reticle, especially with the ability to turn illumination off, but I do find the simple crosshair reticle of the SpecterOS to be more useful in that regard. The horseshoe-dot is built for speed more than precision. Against a bright sandy background on a sunny day, I had zero issues picking up the bright green illumination when turned up to max. In comparison, the ELCAN’s red center crosshairs looked red, but certainly not “OMG LOOK AT ME” bright.

I don’t want to talk group sizes, because I simply wasn’t prepared. My lack of practice lately showed in my shooting. I did manage a couple three shot groups in the 1 to 1.5 MOA range off a bipod or backpack, but they weren’t the norm. My positional shooting was poor, and I can tell that my muscles and joints are out of practice (and in need of stretching). I will report more after additional range sessions.

Overall, my initial impression of the TA-110 is very good. The TA-11 has a solid reputation behind it, so I see no reason that it wouldn’t apply to this one as well. It is not a lightweight optic, so I wouldn’t suggest it on any super light builds (maybe a TA-33, though).

 

 

 

The Competing Interests Model

Not long ago, I talked about the well known Time-Cost-Quality Paradigm, and how it applies to both firearms and training. I want to revisit that concept, because I’ve come across something else that I think is an even better way to look at it.

While working on a professional certification, I’ve been reading about another model used in project management called the “Competing Interests” paradigm. Whereas the old Time-Cost-Quality may be more appropriate for things, it is not as useful for people. People often have competing priorities and limited resources that affect how decisions are made.

The competing interests model has the previous time-cost-quality components, but adds a few more. In all, these include Time, Cost, Scope, Quality, Resources,  and Risk.

Project Constraints.png

 

So how do we apply these? Let’s look at the definition of each of these components, and how they apply to our marksmanship journey. These concepts are interrelated, and you will see some overlaps in definition. The takeaway is that changing one will affect the others.

Time: How much time is available? When does this project/evolution/skill need to be acquired by? More or less time pressure will affect how other resources are utilized.

Cost: How much does this cost in terms of dollars? How much does training, ammunition, or equipment cost in order to obtain the desired end result?

Scope: What is it that we are trying to accomplish? Are we working on a particular rifle skill, such as rifle marksmanship, or are we working on a variety of skills that include marksmanship as a component?

Quality: How good is the end result supposed to be? Do we need to maintain a 4 MOA standard, or a 2 MOA standard? Do we need to be able to do this under ideal conditions, or any condition?

Resources: These are things available to us that are not necessarily dollar related. What kind of people are available to us to help us? What kind of facilities do we have to practice? What kind of equipment do we have access to? How much time can we dedicate to our pursuits?

Risk: What would happen if we failed to reach the desired end result in the time allotted? If we prioritize other elements ahead of our practice, what “bad things” might happen?

Put it to Use

I like this model because it provides us more detail and a broader framework for understanding why we make the decisions that we do. I often read lamentations from the “serious” firearms user crowd that other folks around them really aren’t putting in enough time and effort into “serious” training. When asked what kind of training and practice they believe folks should be doing, they invariable talk about whatever their preferred brand of tactical/practical/go-fast method of shooting is. This often happens at the expense of other areas of skills that are just as valuable (if not more) depending on an individuals priorities and experiences. Not everyone perceives the same risks and needs as everyone else, nor are they preparing for the same kinds of events.

I recently saw a YouTube video of bushcrafter Dave Canterbury talking about priorities in the “prepper community.” He mentioned the guys out there who stockpile ammo forts of 40,000 rounds of ammunition and years worth of food, but have no other skills. His priority is to be proficient enough with weapons to use them when needed, but puts his efforts towards learning basic skills like woodworking and blacksmithing that will enable him to create tools and actively provide for himself and others. To him, the risk is that he finds himself in a situation where he may have weapons, but no way to find shelter or prepare food.

Others will put their efforts into weapons handling and small unit tactics. They envision roving gangs of no-goodniks looking to steal resources and harm communities. To them, the risk is that without proper equipment and training, there will be no safety to be had. They want to protect the lives if them and theirs, and keep their communities safe.

Yet many more are not concerned about either of these scenarios, and see risk as not winning a match or losing prestige in their chosen fields of competition.

No two people have the same priorities, and how we address the six competing interests will vary from person to person.

As an “Everyday” marksman, I find that my interests are fairly wide and varied. I want to be proficient with my rifle and pistol, but I am not necessarily preparing for TEOTWAKI. I simply wish to be a capable human being who can protect me and mine, while also possessing the knowledge and skills to provide and survive as well.

Entering Year Four

So we begin 2017, the fourth year of Everyday Marksman.

With 2016 in the rearview mirror, I can honestly say that it was a difficult year on a lot of levels. My range time took a back seat to family obligations with the addition of my son to our family. I was promoted to a new position at work that kept me very busy in a rewarding manner, but also left me with less spare time. I also initiated my plan for leaving the Air Force in just a few months from now. We will be moving back to the East Coast, and I am hopeful that some of my current prospects workout and I have a new career to move to before I start packing boxes here in California.

From a blog standpoint, traffic increased another 370% over 2015, which itself was a 520% increase over 2014. I honestly never expected to see the traffic numbers that I do now. This was always, and continues to be, something I do for fun and to give me an outlet to write.

The most popular posts on this blog are those specifically concerning the AR-15 rifle, particularly barrels and first time buyers guides. Accessories, such as optics, are also popular posts. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since there were month-over-month record gun sales numbers most of the year, and people are searching the internet for advice on what to buy. Despite the popularity, I do not plan on shifting the focus of my blog to the AR-15. I’m not necessarily after clicks (I don’t monetize this site), and I want to keep this blog focused mainly on marksmanship.

That said, where do I want to go in the next year?

With my pending move back to freedom country, I want to increase my participation in formal training and competition. Those opportunities are extremely limited where I live now, due to California’s firearms laws and the limits they present on equipment. That is entirely different where I am going, though. One of the best shooting facilities in the country will only be an hour or so away (Peacemaker National Training Center). I am particularly interested in their DMR matches, but also plan to compete in their 2-Gun competitions as well.

As far as purchases this year, I have a few in the works. I am not planning on any new rifles, but do plan on purchasing a new optic: the TA-110 ACOG. I still really like my Elcan SpecterOS 4x, and I want to keep it on my 16″ RECCE rifle. The 20″ musket, which has been undergoing some modification, just screams for an optic and I think the battery powered 3.5 ACOG meets all of my needs and wants. On a handgun front, I feel that I’ve been deprived for the last several years by living in California and having to deal with its asinine “approved handgun list.” The two primary purchases I’m planning on are a CZ P01 and a CZ P09. I think these two represent a good balance of size, accuracy, and capacity. Additionally, I’ve been planning on sending my Beretta 92A1 off to Wilson Combat for some work.

Depending on the financial outlook, 2017 may also be the year I finally begin reloading. I’ve had my eye on Hornady’s new(ish) Iron Press, and I think it would represent a great way to enter the world of loading my own competition ammo.

From a marksmanship blogging standpoint, I want to dig back into higher speed application of the principles I’ve written about for the last three years. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about traditional slung up rifle positions. This is primarily driven by the fact that limitations on ammunition capacity and reload speed made it impractical for me to really do anything other than slow-fire precision shooting. With the return to freedomland, I want to change that. Precision is important, but so is getting a hit on target with speed. That may mean less “slinging up” and more improvised positions, which will make for interesting writing.

In all, I look forward to the coming year, and I thank you all for sticking with me on this journey.

Happy New Year!

The Hammer Forged Barrel Process

An interesting video I came across recently came from The Gun Collective. They took a tour of the Daniel Defense factory, and spent some time showing the hammer forge machine in operation. I briefly discussed how hammer forging works on my guide to AR-15 barrels, but this is a nice visual representation. The key part starts at 1:27 and ends around 6:27 (though the entire video is worth watching).

I’ve been very vocal about the importance of quality control and how it factors into the cost of a component. I found it interesting that the first QA inspector talks about doing random inspections on about every 20th barrel rather than every individual barrel. I can’t say this is the best or worst practice, because it clearly works out for Daniel Defense. Hammer forging is known for very consistent results, and it probably just makes the most cost efficient sense to check every 20th barrel to look and see if the tooling is ready for replacement. The second QA inspector likely does her process on every barrel, since it is a faster process.

The remainder of the video shows the aluminum manufacturing and assembly processes that DD goes through. DD is a known quality company, with prices to match. So, again, you have to ask yourself what steps other companies are skipping in order to give you that cheaper price.

Initial Impression: MVT 3X Special Forces Chest Rig

 

FullRig.JPG

My awesome wife recently bought me an MVT 3X Special Forces Chest Rig as a gift. This is intended to compliment my belt, which has undergone several changes since I first wrote about it. I’ll talk about those in another post.

I have been eyeballing a chest rig for years. In my time with the military, I’ve noted that wearing gear on the chest, as opposed to the waist, has become the de facto standard procedure. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is the prevalence of mounted operations where a chest rig (or plate carrier) is much more comfortable than a loaded belt with pouches around the back for sitting in vehicles. Chest rigs also offer less interference with the waist belt on large rucks. In the past, wearing a large ruck meant either removing the load carriage belt, or removing the the ruck. The former option reduced your fighting capability, and the latter created higher risk for injury. Chest rigs offer benefits of mobility as well, since bulky items on the belt line interfere with clearing obstacles and navigating tight spaces.

There are drawbacks, of course. From a weight bearing standpoint, the hips remain the best location to transfer weight to the ground. Chest rigs, and plate carriers, keep the weight high on the chest and can create extra stress on the spine. There are ways to mitigate this through load balancing with a backpack, but putting weight on the chest will always be a “second best” solution compared to the hips when it comes to load bearing. The simplest way around this is to not overload the chest.

A few of the rigs I’ve intended to purchase in the past, but never did, include the VTAC MOLLE Assault Rig, Esstac’s Bush Boar A1, SKD’s PIG Universal Chest Rig, Tactical Tailor MAV, Mayflower UW, and the Haley DC3R. For various reasons, I never committed the money to any of these, though they all appear to be very well made pieces of gear.

I came across posts from MVT (short for Max Velocity Tactical) while researching load bearing methods. In fact, much of the philosophy behind my original battle belt configuration came from his earlier blog posts. Max runs a training facility geared towards teaching the skills to the public beyond the standard weapons handling methods typically seen from well known training outfits. He is a veteran of the British Para Regiment, has done contractor work in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and a veteran of the US Army Reserves. His writings are excellent, and I recommend reading them if you are inclined, but beyond my typical focus areas.

At some point, Max teamed up with Mike “Diz” Dismuke to design gear. Diz is another long-time veteran of the US military, and his work with designing functional load bearing gear for 25 years is rather well known among a few pockets of professional users with the leeway to invest in such small-batch customized stuff. Diz was known for producing the “Diz Rig,” which was fabled among much of the shooting community. He also later built a custom rig that became the basis of the much sought after, but no longer manufactured, BCM 03 Chest Harness.  He was integral to the formation of UW Gear, though it seems he has since moved on. I bring this up in order to show that even though you probably haven’t heard of MVT, they have top notch people designing and building gear.

Max and Diz have gone through several iterations of chest rigs, with each generation building upon lessons learned from running the previous one through Max’s notoriously intense training programs. These programs include land navigation, rucking, small unit tactics, simulated combat in wooded environments against pop-up “Ivan” targets, and CQB. Reading Max’s blog over the years has been a great source of insight in how various gear configurations work (or don’t work). I respect how MVT is willing to change their own product lineups quickly in order to support what they think works best.

The 3X Special Forces Rig is an evolution of Max’s Responder rig, and was done at the request of a professional user group. The main difference is the addition of a integral radio pocket.

The rig is made entirely in the USA of 1000D Cordura, so it is going to put up with abuse. I know 1000D has fallen out of favor compared to 500D, but this rig is minimalist enough that I hardly notice its weight. The rig I received appears to have top notch stitching, with no loose threads in sight and nice straight stitches. In email conversations I’ve had with MVT’s manufacturer in Georgia, I get the sense that they take great pride in being a small shop and want to produce the best gear that they can.

There is ample adjustment range, and you can see in the above photo that I taped down the excess adjustment length. The H-Harness straps are wide and flat. This provides very comfortable load distribution while not getting in the way of also wearing an assault pack or ruck. There is a single row of MOLLE running vertically down the harness strap for lashing items or attaching hydration hoses.The straps can also be removed and the main chest piece attached directly to a plate carrier via fastex buckles, if so desired. If it were me, I’d rather keep the plate carrier slick and wear the rig on top.

The 3X rig is designed to carry four 30rd AR-15 magazines. Each integral magazine pouch includes a formed kydex insert that grabs the magazine for very good retention. The tension is just right in order to create very positive insertion and retrieval of magazines without slowing anything down. The kydex inserts and interior of the pockets are lined with hook and loop in order to keep the inserts in place. Previous iterations of the rig included shock cord pull tabs, but Max and company found that the kydex provided more than enough retention for Average Joe, who isn’t jumping out of airplanes.

Legal Note: I don’t have any 30 rd magazines at home to test this with (thanks, California!), but being active duty, I was able to test it on a military range with a mix of 30 rd PMAGs and USGI 30rd aluminum mags. I just wanted to get that clarification out of the way.

kydexinsert

Behind the magazine pouches, there is a map/notebook pocket and a orienteering compass pocket. The compass pocket includes a small loop of material for dummy cording. Why an orienteering compass as opposed to a lensatic like a Brunton or Cammenga? It’s a matter of experience. The British troops prefers the thinner orienteering style like a Silva Expedition, so that’s what Max built his rig for. Not being a land navigation expert myself, I can’t really comment on one or the other. The map/notebook pocket nicely fits a Rite in the Rain notebook with room to spare.

Mapandcompass.JPG

On each end of the rig, outside the four magazine pouches, there is three rows and four columns of MOLLE.

max-velocity-tactical-3x-special-forces-rig-2-682x383-1477678611

Stock photo from MVT’s store of the complete rig

I picked up a few of MVT’s admin pouches as well. Max makes it a point to eliminate noisy items from his gear, such as velcro and zippers. In order to do this, the pouches utilize a “Tuck Tab” or “Tuck Tunnel.” This means that there is a stiff sewn end of material on the flap that inserts into a sewn in tunnel on the pouch. This method appears very secure, almost totally silent, and easy to use. I have seen this same design on pouches from UW gear, so I assume it is a specialty of Diz’s. I have not seen such a design anywhere else, which is a shame. The same method is used for securing the MOLLE straps sewn on the back of the pouch.

The medium pouch is sized to fit a FLIR Scout. It also holds my Vortex Solo R/T 8x monocular very well. I also picked up a small pouch, but am not using it at the moment.

Beneath the outer rows of MOLLE is the radio pouch. This is a special feature of the 3X rig versus its predecessor, the Responder Rig. On each side of the 3X rig is a pancaked pouch sized to fit a PRC-152. It also fits two P-Mags, or just about any other handheld radio. Two loops have been sewn on the bottom of the rig for routing antennas. There are also two more slots on each side for inserting narrower objects like flashlights, markers, ChemLights, multitools, or bottles of weapon lubricant. The two Multicam rig photos below are stock photos from Max’s store.

In wearing the rig, I find it pairs well with my battle belt. The combination offers a lot of flexibility in that i can go from a “bare minimum” fighting capability with the battle belt, and then add the chest rig for more ammunition and options. Also, I found that this chest rig can be comfortably worn under my Vertx smock for a lower profile appearance.

Overall, I am very happy with this rig. It provides all the right capability without creating excess bulk, loose straps to snag, or other things getting in the way. Over the next few months, I will put it through as much use as I can and really get a feel for it. Whatever the result, which I expect will be positive, it is nice to see another well made piece of American gear on the market.

 

 

Notes for Training Others

I don’t bill myself as a firearms instructor by any means. I do love learning and practicing marksmanship, and I am a very capable instructor (and have credentials to back it up), but I’ve never formally put the two together. That said, I do get asked to take people out and teach them how to shoot. This was the case last week, when a coworker wanted me to help them improve their pistol skills in preparation for deployment. I made it clear up front that I specialize more in rifle shooting, but would be happy to help them in any way I could.

In this particular case, it turned out that I had a lot to offer them. They were, more or less, uninitiated into the fundamentals of marksmanship. The bits I have learned over the years from my own competition history and practice were more than enough to “firehose” this person with more information than they could really process in a 90 minute range session. They made significant progress, but I could tell that this person wanted more. What follows are some of my takeaways for both future training sessions and for others who might be informally teaching friends or family.

Notes for Myself

The number one issue this person had is a significant flinch. His shots were centered on the paper from left to right, but coming in very low at only 7 yards. I brought three pistols with me to represent various types of actions (a 1911 for single action only, my Beretta for DA/SA, and the FNS-9 for a striker). I noticed that each time I presented a new pistol, the first couple shots were fairly good, but would steadily march down the target as the shooter learned to anticipate the shot. On two occasions, the shooter attempted to fire from slide lock (they didn’t detect that they were out of ammunition) and I noted a significant anticipatory flinch.

The best ways I know how to deal with flinching is dry fire, which we didn’t have time for, and a ball-and-dummy drill whereby I randomly add snap caps into the magazine. This latter drill will make flinching very obvious to both the instructor and to the student when the student unknowingly squeezes the trigger on a dummy round . Unfortunately, I failed to bring snap caps with me, even though I looked at them and considered bringing them. The best I ended up being able to do was teaching trigger control by balancing a quarter on the Beretta’s barrel and having the student practice dry firing without the quarter falling.

I also failed to bring a holster with me, which prevented any instruction on firing from a draw. In the short time we had, I didn’t think there would be enough room to practice those techniques. Still, it would have made for a more complete training session.

General Notes on Teaching Others

If my many years as an Air Force instructor have taught me anything, it’s that all lessons have three primary elements: an objective, a plan, and a measurement. The objective is written first, as it is difficult to teach anything unless you know what it is you should be teaching. Measurements and tests are created next. These measurements should demonstrate successful completion of the objective. Lesson plans, the real meat of the instruction, are created last.

From the outside, this may appear backwards. Most of the time, people create objectives first, build the lessons, and then create the measurements from material taught in the lesson. This makes sense to the uninitiated because it follows the order of presentation. However, this pattern creates a high risk of lesson material wandering off-topic. Furthermore, it often results in measurements that cherry-pick bits of information from the lesson that may or may not be relevant to completing the actual objective. I’ve taken many courses built this way, and it’s always a frustrating experience because the information seems too broad, the questions too random, and the material not really supporting the measurement or objective. Creating the measurements before the lesson keeps information focused on what is really needed for success. If you find the lesson wandering too far outside the scope of the measurement and objective, then you need to either eliminate the information, adjust your measurement/objective to include it, or create a new objective to measure. This last bit, identifying and constructing supporting objectives, is an art of itself and well outside the scope of this blog.

As far as objectives go, they have three parts: Condition, behavior, and standard. The condition states the circumstances under which the objective is carried out. If academic, it will state whether the test is to be taken open-book or without reference. If practical, it will state the materials provided for the measurement. The behavior identifies what the student will perform. The behavior uses direct action words that can be measured like recall, execute, identify, build, and score. The standard details the required level of performance. For academic objectives, it might be a minimum test score. For practical objectives, it might be a threshold on the number of mistakes or successful completion of the behavior within a set timing standard.

A poor objective might only have the behavior element and read something like this:

  • Place five shots within the 10 ring of the target

Better objectives look like these, which were some of my personal shooting goals:

  • Given a duty belt, holster, and loaded handgun from the standing position; place ten shots from a Beretta 92A1 within an eight inch circle at 25 meters within 15 seconds from the draw.
  • Using factory ammunition, AR-15 rifle, magnified optic, and shooting sling; place 10 shots within a 3 MOA circle at any range up to three hundred yards from prone position within 60 seconds

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about just setting up the lesson via good objectives and measurements. Prior planning is just that important. This process does not necessarily need to be formally written every time, as you probably don’t do this for a living. But at least having a general framework mapped out will help you be more organized when you improvise.

Now that we’ve got an idea how to prepare a lesson, I want to talk about content. My general pattern when I take others to the range to teach them looks like this:

Objectives:

  1. Without reference, recall the four basic safety rules of firearms handling without error
  2. Given an unloaded handgun, demonstrate safe firearm handling practices without error
  3. Given unlimited time, a loaded 10 round magazine, handgun, and starting from a low ready; place at least 7 out of 10 shots in a 4 inch circle from 7 yards
  4. Given unlimited time, 10 rounds of loose ammunition, an empty magazine, and handgun; load and fire pistol at a four inch circle from 25 yards with at least 50% of shots falling within the circle and all shots on the paper

The Plan:

  • Brief small talk to ‘break the ice;’ tell a story or joke relating to the day
  • Discuss the day’s objective(s) to prepare the student to learn
  • Safety briefing including Cooper’s four rules, proper wear of shooting glasses, demonstration of ear protection
    • Have student recite rules from memory (objective 1)
  • Basic nomenclature and demonstration of the weapons to be fired
  • Dry fire practice to familiarize student with weapon operation
    • Have student perform demonstration of basic operation (objective 2)
  • Discussion of marksmanship fundamentals
    • Position and grip
    • Sight Picture
    • Breathing
    • Trigger Control and Squeeze
  • Have student practice each element with dry fire
    • Correct any obvious mistakes or safety violations
    • Offer helpful advice for minor mistakes, but don’t appear to nag
  • With live ammunition, demonstrate how incorrect execution of fundamentals affects shot placement and recoil control
  • Have student practice with live ammunition (correct blatant mistakes on the spot)
    • Debrief student after each magazine (every 5-10 shots for me), have student self-diagnose as much as possible in order to keep them engaged and paying attention
    • Discuss what went well
    • Discuss how to improve the things that did not go well
  • After sufficient practice, post a new target and perform measurement
    • Debrief the measurement (objectives 3 and 4)
  • Repeat as needed for more learning points, objectives, and measurements
  • Review fundamentals and discuss how great shooting is merely the great application of fundamentals and poor shooting is the poor execution of fundamentals; it’s the Indian and not the Arrow
  • Ask student to recount what they’ve learned and any positive experiences of the day

That seems like a long list, but it can actually go pretty fast once you get used to it. The above pattern is geared towards those with very little shooting experience, and is designed to illustrate that shooting is a very safe and enjoyable practice when done correctly. Obviously, you can tailor the message to the student if they have more experience and you are teaching them a particular skill.

Teaching others to shoot is an awesome opportunity to both introduce new people to the sport and improve upon your own skills in the process. Prior planning and preparation, even if informal, will dramatically improve the quality experience for everyone involved. The individual I took to the range last week came away not only with a higher level of ability than when they started, but also a much greater appreciation for what they didn’t know. I gave them a glimpse down the rabbit hole and showed them a wide world they might not have previously considered. Even if they don’t become avid shooters themselves, they come away appreciating how much work goes into becoming a great marksman.

That appreciation can be turned into action.

Time, Cost, Quality. Pick Two.

In project management, there is a recurring adage that says, “Fast, cheap, or good. Pick two.”

The underlying message is that every project, product, or process is a trade off between responsiveness, cost, and quality. High quality and high speed cannot be done cheaply. High quality and low cost cannot be done quickly. Opting for speed and low cost will usually result in lowered quality.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAASqAAAAJGIwYzQ4MTIzLTVkMTEtNDgyNi1iYjdkLTRjNTAwOGU1NDFkZg.png

I think the application of this principle is widely appropriate across the firearms community. Be it training, weapons, or gear, the idea that we must balance these three factors in order to achieve an outcome remains true. Let me elaborate.

Weapons

I’ve mentioned before that I become wary of any product that comes in significantly lower in price and is marketed to me as being “just as good as” some other known quality product. My advice to be careful of such statements is all over my posts on purchasing AR-15s and components.

The principles of free markets dictate that there will usually be a point that the market willimg_0464 support for a given mix of quality, responsiveness to customers (via shipping speed, customer communication, responses to problems, etc.), and cost. My personal observation is that that price is roughly around $900 to $1100. There are some allowance for give and take based on company reputation, competitive advantages, and marketing dollars. Whenever a company asks for significantly lower than that price bracket, as in $600-$800, I start asking myself what they are sacrificing in the triangle to make it happen.

In some cases, they aren’t really sacrificing anything. Some manufacturers have managed to bring nearly all manufacturing activities under one roof, and therefore do not have to worry about overhead on sub contracts. For instance, BCM is known to make great rifles, but they don’t really manufacture many individual components in-house. They contract to various companies that make their forgings, barrels, triggers, bolts, etc., and then assemble those quality components into quality rifles using good procedures and QA methodology. However, each of those subcontractors who made the barrels, bolts, and forgings must also make a profit. The cost of helping those companies make a profit is rolled into what BCM has to pay for the parts, and then BCM rolls that additional cost into the price of their products. So long as the market will support the price point, everyone is happy. Some companies, like Colt, actually own all the equipment required to produce receivers, barrels, and small components. They don’t have to pay anyone else except the raw material suppliers for aluminum and steel. That allows them to save money, and pass that savings onto the customer, if they choose. Alternatively, they could charge a higher price and reap a larger profit if the market would support it. In Colt’s particular case, they earned a reputation for charging higher prices than average based on their name and their market share began to decline. More recently, they have been charging lower prices and producing products more inline with the rest of the market, and appear to be doing well.

On the other hand, some companies will skimp on things in order to reduce costs and lower prices. For example, BCM tests and inspects every bolt and barrel they sell. That is an expensive process, and raises costs. Another company may only inspect one bolt or barrel out of every batch of 50 that they sell. That certainly saves them time and money, but they could end up selling out of spec parts. If not that, then perhaps some companies do not have dedicated quality assurance processes to inspect every product before it leaves the door. Perhaps these companies know their target market segment will not typically consist of “serious users” who know what to look for and will therefore not complain. Or perhaps they rely on a reputation for great customer service that fixes/replaces items with no questions asked. In this latter case, they may realize that the rate of breakage and cost of occasionally replacing items is less than paying for higher levels of quality assurance.

Lastly, perhaps some companies do not want to pay full time customer service folks to answer phones, emails, and communicate on message boards. That saves them money, but at the cost of lost customer responsiveness. Again, what’s more important?

I’m not getting into weapons that cost significantly more than average, such as Noveske, KAC, and other top-dollar brands. They follow the same market principles as everyone else, and the market has decided to support their price points.

Gear

Gear companies essentially follow the same rules as weapons companies. Instead of steel, aluminum, and assembly know-how, you are paying for quality of materials and stitching prowess.

img_0865I try to buy high quality gear because I can tell the difference in how it is made. The stitching is clean, straight, and the materials feel sturdy. I believe I can rely on these products to function in less than optimal conditions. If something goes wrong, I have always had good experiences with contacting companies with questions and getting prompt responses.

I don’t mind paying just a bit more for those benefits. But you probably won’t see me paying the huge prices charged by companies that typically target government contracts.

Training

By training, I’m referring more to your own skill level. The way I see it, the same rules apply as purchasing weapons and gear but with slightly different definitions.

IMG_0418

You can develop your skill quickly, and obtain high levels of proficiency, but you’re going to pay for it through the cost of ammunition, professional coaching, and perhaps great personal/physical costs (missing time at work, joining the military, etc.)

Alternatively, you can develop your skill at lower personal/physical/fiscal cost, but it will take more time as you spread out your practice over months and years (as I have done). You can still become quite proficient using this route, but it certainly relegates things to more of a “hobby” status and a lower priority than other aspects of your life.

The third route is, of course, trying to do it quickly and cheaply, but that usually results in wasted resources.

The Takeaway

Consider how you spend your time and money. The rules of Time-Cost-Quality seem nearly immutable, and you have to work within their bounds. Before you go spend your hard-earned dollars on weapons or gear that is “just as good as” something that costs a little bit more, ask yourself how that company brought their costs down. What is it, exactly, that they are doing to ask for the price they are.

When it comes to your training, realize that there is no quick and cheap route to proficient marksmanship. Professional coaching is always worth it if you an find it and afford it, but you are more likely going to go about it through considered and focused practice over long periods of time and research. That’s okay, that’s the joy of shooting.

The Everyday Marksman’s 2nd Amendment Wishlist

primary-source-declaration-independence-6bb7c69b.jpg.885x498_q90_box-0,59,1366,828_crop_detail.jpg

The voters have spoken. I will admit my relief at seeing the phrase “President-Elect Donald Trump.” There has been a lot written out there on Trump’s position with the 2nd Amendment. He recently announced a 2nd Amendment Coalition, which includes some heavy hitters in the industry and government.

It seems the next four years will be good to us gun owners, or at least not as antagonistic as the last eight have been. With that said, what are my hopes and dreams for new policies? What follows are my top five realistic and workable policy changes. I realize there are a lot of folks out there who want to go balls to the wall and declare constitutional carry and a removal on all restrictions, but that path is about as realistic as Dianne Feinstein’s plan to tell, “Mr. and Mrs. America to turn them all in.”

Like the prohibitionists’ incremental limitation of rights, our best path is the incremental expansion of rights. The prohibitionists institute a new restriction, which both sides really know won’t do anything, wait a few years and then claim that more must be done. Rinse and repeat until they get to their ultimate goal of a British-style ban on ownership. Our path should look similar, except that we return rights back to the people and demonstrate that nothing resulted. There will be no blood in the streets, there won’t be a sudden uptick in bank robberies with exotic weaponry. We make the case that these rights belong to the people, and we expand them while also attacking the economic, social, and criminal root causes of violence.

With that said, here are my top five suggestions:

50-State CCW Reciprocity/National CCW License

This is something that has already been identified by the incoming administration. The main argument against this has always been that a state like California thinks that the training/permitting requirement from a state like Montana is too lax and allows an individual to obtain a permit in one state that would otherwise not be able to do so in a more restrictive state. This is, frankly, a silly argument. The same could be said of obtaining a driver’s license.

When I received my license in Florida, I took a short multiple question test and drove around a parking lot for five minutes demonstrating that I know how to stop, use signals, park, and perform a three point turn. My wife, from another state, had to drive on highways, city roads, parallel park, and do way more than I did. Both of our driver’s licenses are good in all 50 states and even foreign nations. It’s good for commerce.

The answer for CCW lies in the establishment of a suggested common national training and qualification standard. Note that I didn’t say it’s a requirement, but a suggestion. The reasoning here is that the states remain free to enforce whatever standard they wish on carrying within their own state, as is their right, but to also allow for a common accepted standard agreed upon by all the states. The existing Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) could be the lead on establishing the standard, creating the training, and certifying instructors. Once this is done, any CCW license with the requisite CMP-certified training standard is recognized in all 50 states.

Stopping the End-Run on Commonly Used Firearms

When the Heller decision was handed down in 2008, followed by McDonald in 2010, it was expected to be a new era in 2A rights. We believed that those decisions signaled the high court’s intent to squash many of the 2A infringements seen all over the country. The “common use” language gave us hope that assault weapons bans would be torn down on the coasts; after all, how can you get any more “common use” than the most popular rifle sold on the market?

However, those decisions ended up being very narrowly interpreted (or outright ignored) and the states have gotten away with it with relative impunity. California, for example, has continued to strengthen its already over-the-top laws that have forced residents to choose from as list of outdated pistol designs rather than the best the market currently has to offer. Several states have broadened the definition of “Assault Weapon,” implemented broader registration schemes, and even talked of confiscation of the newly-minted contraband. When the laws have been challenged, the high court chooses not to engage and emboldens the lower states to continue on their merry way.

My hope is that the appointment of new supreme court justices would stop this end-run and get the country on the same page. Furthermore, I would love to see a more concrete definition of “in common use” and preempt the states from infringing upon it. Of course, such a concrete definition has risks as well, as actually defining it may cause problems for newer designs down the line that have not yet reached the status of “in common use.”

Streamlining the NFA Process

There is no denying the huge increase in NFA-related purchases in the last decade, particularly relating to suppressors and short barreled rifles. There has already been a bit of a groundswell to remove suppressors from the NFA, and we should support that act, but I’m thinking bigger picture.

I realize that repealing the National Firearms Act of 1934 is probably not going to happen. But it was written nearly a hundred years ago, and there are provisions of it that can surely be updated to take advantage of modern technology. The NFA background check system is notoriously backlogged for months, with many people waiting up to a year to take their already purchased property home. This simply shouldn’t be the case, since the NFA background check is essentially the exact same thing as the modern NICS check that every firearms owner does when they purchase from a licensed dealer. The reality is that NFA paperwork ends up sitting in a file on someone’s desk until an examiner can get around to checking it. Add to that, individuals must then do the same paperwork, pay the same fees, and wait the same extended amount of time for every NFA purchase they make. It is a waste of time and resources.

So here is what I would prefer: If we’re going to maintain some kind of system for tracking NFA items and owners, then make it a one time thing. Have that person apply for an NFA license and perform the required background checks at the time of application. Once the license is granted, then the license holder is entitled to purchase any NFA items they wish. With each purchase, another form (like a 4473) is completed with the dealer that links the NFA item with the license. Cash and carry. Easy.

Repeal of the “Sporting Purposes” Clause

A little known component of the 1968 Gun Control Act was the introduction of language that gave the ATF authority to determine if imported weapons were suitable “for sporting purposes.” Hunting and organized target shooting (read: NRA High Power) were considered sporting purposes. Target shooting, plinking, and competition like today’s 3-Gun were not. Things like large magazine capacities, the ability to rapidly reload, and menacing appearance were considered military features not suitable for sporting. This act basically stopped the importation of foreign surplus weapons that weren’t already very old designs (i.e. the ubiquity of Mosin-Nagants).

This language was later added to in the 80’s, and then served as the basis for most of the Assault Weapons Bans in the country.

Frankly, this language is obsolete and was written in a pre-Heller decision era. Here’s a good summary of the Heller findings as written in by the Illinois Supreme Court in People vs Aguilar (emphasis mine):

In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court undertook its first-ever “in-depth examination” of the second amendment’s meaning Id. at 635. After a lengthy historical discussion, the Court ultimately concluded that the second amendment “guarantee[s] the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation” (id. at 592); that “central to” this right is “the inherent right of self-defense”(id. at 628); that “the home” is “where the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute” (id. at 628); and that, “above all other interests,” the second amendment elevates “the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home” (id. at 635). Based on this understanding, the Court held that a District of Columbia law banning handgun possession in the home violated the second amendment. Id. at 635.

Nowhere does it mention “sporting” in the finding. In fact, the high court ruled that the 2nd Amendment explicitly allows common citizens to own weaponry for the purposes of self defense. As such, we should remove language from our laws relating to firearms being used primarily for “sporting purposes” and allow people to own any firearm that best suits their needs.

Promote the Safe Participation in the Shooting Sports

Education is the key to the future. There are very few problems in this country that are not solved through better education and exposure. It is ironic to me that the very same people who scream for better education as it relates to sex, drugs, and other controversial issues will happily advocate for the abstinence route when it comes to firearms. I understand why they behave this way. They want to remove shooting from the collective culture so that it dies out with the aging generations who actually enjoy it. The young generations, they hope, will not have the interest or means to participate and therefore the “obsolete” 2nd Amendment will die a slow and gleeful death.

I’m pretty sure they don’t understand the influence of Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Nerf. Hell, I initially became interested in shooting because of my years competitively playing Counter-Strike. I remember convincing my father to buy a H&K USP 9 Compact as his first gun, because that’s what the good guys started with in that game. I still kick myself for not offering to buy it off of him before he passed away.

If you really want to make a difference, then stop fighting our historic culture and embrace it. Encourage participation in the shooting sports by better utilizing the CMP, NCAA programs, and helping provide more and better places for citizens to participate in the wide variety of sports out there. Show the country that the shooting sports are a safe and enjoyable way to interact with firearms. Help them lose their mystique, and empower the common person to take care of themselves and their communities.