Product Review: GORUCK GR1

 

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The GR1 is like one of those mythical objects that people on the internet talk about, but nobody you know actually has. To be fair, paying nearly $300 for a backpack that, from a distance, is nearly indistinguishable from a Jansport might be considered…excessive. As the saying goes, though, you get what you pay for. In this price range, there is a lot of competition from other gear makers like Kifaru, Mystery Ranch, Crye Precision, London Bridge Trading, and more. All of these are considered top notch. Yet, when you search around the web, the GR1 consistently has loyal advocates.

The company was founded by Jason McCarthy, a veteran of the Army 10th SFG. The story goes that he wanted to start a company to be a voice for good and take care of fellow veterans. Furthermore, he wanted to take the best elements from various rucks and packs that he carried and roll them into one exceptionally well-designed pack that would stand up to the abuse of combat. Sales were slow, but Jason slowly built a reputation by partnering with Tough Mudder and using his packs during their races. At the conclusion of each race, he sold his packs off the back of a truck. This partnership eventually led to the creation of the GORUCK challenges that the company has become known for (the above link is actually quite a good read about the origin of the challenges).

GORUCK also makes a variety of packs in different sizes ranging from  the 10L bullet to the 40L GR2. All of them are built to the same “bombproof” standards, but the GR1 remains the flagship of the brand.

I picked up a Ranger Green GR1 several months ago in preparation for the GORUCK Tough (GRT) challenge in Santa Barbara on August 5th. Unfortunately, due to a back injury flaring up, I had to move my registration to a different GRT event in December. I did still use the GR1 in a GORUCK “light” event. I was holding off on finishing the review until I completed at least one GORUCK and traveled a bit with the bag.

IMG_0916.JPGThe GR1 comes in two different sizes: 26L and 21L. Pictured at the top is my Ranger Green 26L GR1. I also purchased a black 21L GR1 for my wife (it has the curved straps to accomodate different anatomy, but it is not a necessity, by any means). The pack is relatively nondescript from the outside, save for three rows of MOLLE on the front and sides, a front slash pocket, and a 2″ x 3″ hook and loop panel on the front. There is no branding on the outside, which helps it comply with Army uniform regulation 670-1. That regulation forbids corporate logos from the exterior of backpacks. From a distance, you are hard pressed to tell the difference between the GR1 and any other simple school backpack. When you pick it up, however, it becomes a very different story.

The GR1 is made entirely out of 1000D Cordura. While 1000D has fallen out of favor as a gear material due to its relative weight compared to 500D, there is no denying that the pack feels tough. As one individual I work with put it when he handled it, “This thing feels like it is going to last forever.”

The stitching is top notch and overbuilt. The YKK zippers are beefy and appear to be easy to maintain. A nice touch is the removal of metal pull tabs from the zippers and replacing them with heat shrunk 550 paracord pulls. This helps cut down on noise as you are moving with the pack and provides a unique look. The zippers run the length of the pack, allowing the front flap to clamshell completely open. The GR1 has one main compartment. Once open, there is a sleeve that works well for laptops, hydration bladders, notebooks, rucking weights, or really any laptop-sized item. This pouch would also make a great host for a mobile transceiver like the Yaesu 817ND or other similar sized module. MOLLE is sewn into the top of the pack for attaching admin pouches, carabiners, or really anything you can tie down.

One of my favorite features is actually pouches sewn into the inside of the pack front. There are two pouches here: one at the top, and a mesh one taking up the rest of the space. The location of these make for easy access to items (cell phones, keys, headphones, whatever). I usually keep a folded up poncho in the mesh pocket, which has been great for impromptu picnics with the family and unexpectedly rainy ruck workouts.

The GR1 also has a zippered sleeve between the main compartment and the back padding. GORUCK calls this the “bombproof laptop compartment.” The 26L can hold a 17″ Macbook Pro, and the 21L holds a 15″ Macbook Pro nicely. Alternatively, I put my 30 lb ruck plate in this spot, or a water bladder. There is a removable polymer frame sheet located inside a discreet sleeve on the padded portion. It feels as though this frame sheet has molded to my back a bit over time, making it very comfortable and distributing loads well. The bottom of the ruck has extra padding to help protect the contents of the pack. Both the main compartment and laptop compartment connect to a hydration tube port at the top of the pack, right under the carry handle. Speaking of which, the top carry handle is extremely strong, likely designed for those moments in the challenges where you lose strap privileges and must carry the weighted pack by that handle for a few miles.

The shoulder straps are beefy, with a good 1/4 inch of padding. The combination of padding and 1000D Cordura is so sturdy, in fact, that it took a month of near daily use (with weight) to break them in. There is a single row of vertically stitched MOLLE running the length of each strap. This works for lashing items, or even attaching accessories. In my case, I simply put an ITW web dominator for controlling the loose end of a hydration tube. The straps are designed to be quickly cinched and carry the load high on the back, which works well for weighted rucking workouts.

Lacking from the package is a sternum or waist strap. Both are available as accessories for relatively low cost. The ones designed by GORUCK weave into the available MOLLE located on the sides of the pack or on the shoulder straps. GORUCK’s explanation for not including them is that they wanted to keep things simple and stripped down (alternatively, I’ve also seen that they didn’t have a good final design for these items until recently). For the amount of money that these packs cost, I would like to have seen the sternum and waist belts included in the package and leave it up to the user to decide if they want to use them or not.

That gets me to usage. To date, I’ve used this pack for EDC at work, picnics, hikes, farmers markets, cycling around town, diaper bag, range bag, laptop bags, a gym bag, a business trip, and a GORUCK event. It has performed flawlessly in every circumstance. I think the real benefit of the GR1 is that it is so generically designed. A lot of “tactical” packs have multiple compartments and sleeves for things like knives, pens, multitools, flashlights, etc. While nifty, a lot of those features end up going unused on a day to day basis. If I load up my SOC Three Day Pass for the range, it is one thing- but using it as a daily pack really doesn’t work well because of all the things I don’t need and the space I then have to do without.

The genericness of the GR1 means that it is not specialized for anything, which makes it pretty useful for just about everything (up to a point, which I’ll get to). The main compartment can be configured and organized as I see fit, rather than being forced into what someone else envisions me using it for. With the MOLLE on the outside, I can choose to add IFAKs, canteen pouches, ammo pouches, cell phone caddies, admin pouches, or leave it slick. Youtube is full of “one baggers” who efficiently pack it for trips up to a week or longer. The only real exception is the slash pocket on the front, which isn’t much good for anything other than flat items once the pack has some bulk. I really only use it for some patches, reflective bands, and maybe a thin Rite in the Rain notebook. If you are going to load up the bag with stuff, do try to keep it organized and compartmentalized. It’s one thing to lay out everything nice and pretty when the bag is laying flat, but unless you have actually organized properly, the contents will “tumble” to the bottom in a messy pile (as seen below).

Now, here is where I’m going to deviate from a lot of what has been said about the pack. As a daily use backpack for a variety of circumstances, the GR1 is awesome. For “tactical” use, I think it makes a great 24 hour assault pack to compete with the likes of LBT, Eagle, and Mystery Ranch. But I hesitate to call it a “Ruck” in the traditional sense. It’s one thing to carry 30-40 lbs in it for a workout, which it does well it. I would NOT want to use it if there was more weight or distance involved. The shoulder straps are good, but the truth is that putting large amounts of weight on your shoulders for extended periods is going to mess with your back. If you plan on rucking with 60+ lbs, you need a sturdy waist belt. I’m not talking about the GORUCK waist belt, either, which is mainly designed to help stabilize the pack during movement. I’m talking serious hip belts that transfer weight to your hips/legs, as you see on large hiking packs.

Realistically, those who have spent time doing serious hikes, backpacking trips, and ruck movements understand this and wouldn’t use the GR1 for that purpose. I’m sure there are some devotees out there who sincerely think that putting 60 lbs in the GR1 and moving long distances on a regular basis is a good idea, though. While it can be done, you really shouldn’t.

The Bottom Line

Pros:

+ Crazy tough construction to withstand nearly any abuse
+ Generic design/size is both discrete and extremely versatile
+ Comfortable for carrying loads (within reason)
+ Just flat out good looking
+ Very high quality

Cons:

– Price is perceived as high for “just a backpack”
– Does not include relatively inexpensive sternum or waist straps
– Takes some time to break in

The Final Verdict, Who Should Buy This:

This is one of those “nice to have” items that probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. There are a lot of great packs on the market that fall into roughly the same category. If you were comparing the GR1 to offerings from Mystery Ranch, Kifaru, Camelbak, and other quality manufacturers, I’m not sure there is anything here that definitely makes the GR1 better than all of the others. They are all in roughly the same price point and share high levels of quality. If versatility without being overly tacticool is a priority for you, then the GR1 is a great pick. The GR1, to me, represents the absolute best version of the classic backpack. If you need more built-in organization or the ability to carry heavier loads for long distances, then something else might work better.

On Iron Sights and Optics

I’ve been a pretty staunch advocate of the fixed front sight base, even if one plans to run a magnified optic. That’s not to say that I’m absolutely married to the idea of keeping it in all circumstances, because I’m not. I do, however, think that most people are discounting them these days because they see a lot of pictures of rifles without them, they look cool, and there are a lot of folks out there talking about the inherent benefits of low profile gas blocks.

In this post, I simply want to discuss the relationship of optics and iron sights on a rifle. There are really three ways to look at this: 1) Cowitnessing, 2) Sight shadow, 3) Necessity.

Cowitnessing is the practice of getting a sight picture with the irons while looking through the optic. This only works on non-magnified red dot sights that are mounted in alignment with the irons. The intent here is that the user can quickly align the irons in the heat of the moment in case the red dot sight fails. Some people also use cowitnessed iron sights as a quick way to check the zero on their red dot (I do not agree with this practice, for reasons I will get to). Cowitnessing is further divided into two general categories: absolute and lower third. With an absolute, looking through the irons will align with the red dot right in the middle of the optic. Everything is aligned in a straight line. With a lower third, the optic is mounted slightly higher than the sights. This latter configuration provides a slightly less cluttered sight picture for the red dot, but allows the shooter to drop his or her head slightly lower and still get an iron sight picture through the bottom third of the red dot sight. Larue Tactical has a good depiction of the two methods using their mounts.

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I mentioned that some folks will check their RDS zero by seeing if it aligns with the iron sights, and that I do not like the practice. The reason I don’t like it is because the sight’s zero can move slightly as the dot moves around the window. I know red dot sights are often sold as being completely parallax free, but it is not true. It is best to zero the irons and zero the red dot separately. When you do that, you also have the option of choosing different zero distances for each system (if it makes sense for you). That might mean a bit more mental work and practice up front, but could offer some more versatility later.

However you choose to do it, you absolutely need to zero your irons. Red dots can and will fail you. Rain, fog, mud, battery failure, and other factors will all disrupt your sight picture through a red dot. To be fair, such occurrences (except for battery failure) will also limit your ability to use the cowitnessed iron sights, so I suggest keeping the RDS on a mount that you can quickly remove, if needed.

As I previously said, cowitnessing only works on sights that have zero magnification. As soon as you introduce lenses that bend light, cowitnessing is no longer an option. As much as it may appear that you can cowitness through a 1x-4x sight set at 1x- you cannot. This is a picture through my TR24 set at 1x behind a the rifle length FSP on the Musket.

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“Well, that looks pretty cowitnessed to me!”

I assure you, it doesn’t work. The reason is that the TR24 is still bending light in such a way that the sight appears to have no magnification. The image is still being taken at the objective end of the scope, a full twelve inches in front of my eye, and about eleven inches in front of where a rear sight might be. The way light moves through this arrangement is simply not the same as how an RDS or bare sights work. If you attempted to cowitness (assuming you could fit a rear sight behind the scope), you are really just aligning the rear sight to a picture rather than a physical front sight.

This is where people start recommending ditching front sights with magnified optics. In truth, a physical front (and rear) sight serves no purpose when you are employing a magnified optic. They exist only as backups. Furthermore, as you can see above, the front sight will be somewhat visible through the scope. How visible it is really depends on the field of view of the scope, though. This is the same configuration, but with the scope set on 4x.

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From this perspective, you really can’t see the front sight at all. That is because the TR24 has a fairly narrow field of view. This next photo is on the same rifle but with my fixed 4x ELCAN, which has a much wider field of view that better includes the front sight.

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This is for illustrative purposes only, and is not definitive. In actual use, the front sight is not that visible through the ELCAN. Your eye focuses and captures light differently than a camera lens, so the blur at the bottom is much less obtrusive in actual use than this picture would have you believe. That said, it is still there and quite detectable if you are looking for it.

Here is another photo I found through an ACOG that is closer to how it appears through the ELCAN.

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The important thing to remember is that if you are doing your job and focusing on the target, you will hardly notice the dark blur. The higher the magnification goes, and narrower the field of view goes, the less visible the front sight becomes. At 10x, as with my 2.5-10x scope, I don’t see the post at all.

That said, a fixed FSB can sometimes reflect light back into the objective. When I’ve run 10x scopes behind an FSB, there are some circumstances where reflected light briefly distorts my sight picture (though not enough to actually cause a problem). For most users, under most circumstances, this simply isn’t something to worry about.

That brings me to necessity. Do we actually need backups? When you see optics mounted behind fixed sights on military rifles, it is because that is how the rifle is issued to the user. Military users don’t have much leeway on how their rifles are configured, so they “make it work.” On civilian rifles, it is mostly done either because the user purchased a complete rifle with FSB and just ran with it, or they are copying the look of military weapons. For most people choosing a configuration with a lot of leeway, going without fixed sights (or even backup) will probably work just fine. For new users, the uncluttered sight picture offers a slight boost in speed.

I will readily admit that I prefer using optics without FSB shadow (both RDS or magnified), but I’ve come to accept the trade off. The fixed front sight tower is simply the strongest front sight solution available. If I choose to move back to irons, then that sturdy front sight will be there for me. But that is me. 

Just because you see everyone slapping backup sights on optically-sighted rifles doesn’t mean you need to as well. Analyze your situation, your needs, and make a decision. If you have an optic that has short eye relief, like a TA31 ACOG, it is okay to delete the backup sights in order to position the scope for comfortable shooting. As far as I’m concerned, backup sights are a nicety, not a necessity. I’m sure some will argue with me on that, but it really comes down to personal preference.

As always, look at how you actually use your rifle and what your needs are.

 

New Rifle Update

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Not long ago, I mentioned having the urge to start a new project.  My observation back in June was that my main rifle, which began life as a KISS iron sight rifle, had grown in weight and capability to become my go-to for most things. Despite that, I still really enjoyed the basic configuration. I started sketching out a new lightweight minimalist project, which I’m designating my “field rifle,” or “walking around rifle.”

This is the original mockup I did on Gunstruction.

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At this point, I have the lower assembly completed.

  • Rainier Arms lower receiver
  • Sionics lower parts kit
  • Magpul MOE Rifle Stock
  • Hogue overmold pistol grip without finger grooves
  • ALG ACT trigger
  • Magpul MOE trigger guard

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I’ve been playing with this assembled lower on my 20″ upper to see how I like it. So far, so good. The Rainier lower, which I presume is made by Mega Machine based on some of the features, is very nice. The roll pin holes were tight, which is not a bad thing, and took some finesse on my part. I’m not one to mind my lowers looking a little “used,” but I can see some people being concerned about the effort required to drive in certain pins (particularly the trigger guard).

The Hogue pistol grip is quite nice, it has the nice rubberized texture Hogue is famous for, a subtle palm swell, and is shaped more or less like an A1 grip. The Hogue grips have a little lip protrusion that is intended to fill the gap created by the standard AR trigger guard. However, since I’m using a Magpul MOE trigger guard, which is designed to fill the gap itself, I had to cut the “lip” off the top of the grip. No big deal, less than a minute with my Leatherman.

The MOE Rifle stock is awesome. I installed one on an unfinished 308 lower years ago, and have shot them on rifles I’ve built for friends, but never put one on one of my own ARs. It offers a very nice cheek weld and fits my length of pull perfectly.

The ACT trigger has been in my stable for years as a backup to my Geissele triggers. It will be front-and-center now, though. It’s just a good all-round mil spec style trigger. The single stage has a very minor amount of creep, but I don’t really care given the style of shooting this project is intended for.

Going forward, I plan on using a Faxon 18″ Gunner barrel (with a Criterion Ultralight 18″ in close second). Following that, I’ll be finishing the project with a Rainier Arms forged upper receiver (without forward assist), Rainier bolt carrier group, and Magpul MOE rifle handguards mounted behind a standard F-Marked front sight tower. For a rear sight, I will likely use the BCM carry handle I already have on hand, but may go with either an LMT sight or Larue A1 style sight in the long run. I plan completing this project before pre-election panic buying gets into full swing, which will make parts dry up pretty quickly. That is, of course, assuming the parts I want are available in my desired timeframe.

 

Defining Practical Marksmanship

Since the beginning of this blog, I’ve but an emphasis on “practical” marksmanship. The tagline at the top reads, “Practical, Not Just Tactical.” Something I realized, though, is that I’ve never really talked about what “practical marksmanship” entails.

The term itself is nebulous. Practical as opposed to what? Tactical marksmanship? Precision marksmanship? Dynamic?

Allow me to reference the Cambridge Dictionary:

Practical

adjective /ˈpræk·tɪ·kəl

    1. Relating to actual experience or to use the knowledge in activities rather than knowledge only or ideas
    2. Fitting the needs of a particular situation in a helpful way; helping to solve a problem or difficulty; effective or suitable

Ok, there, I made it sound official and a little academic. I suppose that is interesting, but it’s not really satisfying. What am I really getting at?

To me, practical marksmanship is really about keeping the end goal in mind. I do not discount the value of competition and a focus on precision, those are both vital components of my vision. However, to me, winning a competition is not the end game in of itself. Rather, the focus is on the ability to apply the skills learned through practice and competition and apply them to real world use of hitting targets that need to be hit. That could manifest itself in hunting, field competition, or defensive action. The long term focus is not on the skill in a vacuum, but how that skill will be applied in the real world.

How is that different than tactical or precision marksmanship? I suppose it is not, really. In my view, tactical marksmanship is primarily focused on relatively close range defensive marksmanship (as opposed to hunting or competition); it is a subset of the practical. Precision marksmanship is a bit more vague, and I more closely associate it with competition or long range shooting with more time and planning available.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, but its just something that I’ve been thinking about. My vision has always been one of being able to walk around with a rifle in the field, recognize the need to take a shot, take a stable position, and hit the mark. I want to do this at any range I can see the target under any weather condition. That is practical marksmanship.

You can see this manifest in a variety of ways. My gear choices and weapon configurations could easily migrate towards specialized setups that would be better for precision, or better for home defense, or better for shooting 3-Gun. But they don’t, because I realize that such configurations are really tailored to specific circumstances. “Space Guns” that run on the ragged edge of reliability in order to decrease shot split times work well enough in a relatively sterile USPSA match with a tailored hand load, but would probably choke after being exposed to cheaper surplus ammo and a healthy dose of dust. Long and heavy barreled F-Class rifles are great for maintaining those tight shot clusters at range, but you sure wouldn’t want to hump one for miles up a mountain on a hunt.

Keep the end goal in mind, and work towards it.

 

 

Why Marksmanship?

Over the years, I’ve been involved in many discussions/debates/arguments with folks who do not understand or respect the importance of their 2A rights. In fact, one of the more memorable debates occurred when my interlocutor tried to explain why AR-15s should be reclassified as weapons of mass destruction. I made them feel quite foolish about their opinion when I informed them of my background as a nuclear weapons launch officer, and the actual capabilities of real WMDs (though, I’m also quite sure they continued to use such foolish language after I was done with them).

Every so often in these debates, someone will say that people like me are just upset about having my hobby limited or taken away. They tell me that I need to get over it, and that I should want to give up my hobby if it meant saving lives. “Why should anyone,” they will ask, “be involved in a hobby that is all about killing?”

While I will certainly admit that I laugh at these kinds of arguments, as they come primarily from a place of ignorance, I cannot fully write them off. It is easy for us to parry such an statement with pointed language about competition, and how our guns have never killed anyone, but such a counter has never quite felt complete, if not hollow. The question has always lingered in the back of my mind: why do I enjoy what I do so much? Why is it that I fight so vehemently to keep my rights as they are? If this was purely about marksmanship and competition, then logic would dictate that I could do just as well with a bolt action or a simple .22 LR.

Sooner or later, we must dig into our motivations. I’m not talking about whatever thing first drew us to firearms in general. Some people like the noise and flash of shooting. Others enjoy the engineering and mechanics of it all. Yet more appreciate the historical context. Those are all great in their own right, but those things are what got us started. What is that actually makes us want to keep practicing?

I’ve written before on how we should communicate and the culture we should strive for. I’ve also written about the challenge of mastering marksmanship. I’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing the why *I* think it is important to continue teaching marksmanship, but not everyone will agree with my reasons. Something I’ve never really tackled, though, is the question that the antis present: why get involved in a skill/sport/practice/hobby that is so closely died with death and destruction?

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we shy away from that truth. We deflect by talking about competition, history, collection, and maybe hunting, but we rarely confront it head on. When presented with the notion that firearms are primarily designed as weapons, we recoil and redirect- perhaps to our own credibility’s detriment. Like any martial art, becoming proficient in the use of firearms is to become proficient in the application of violence. Whether or not we actually intend to use it is immaterial. I believe, culturally, we avoid the subject because we want to believe that “violence never solves anything.” Deep down, though, we know that this is simply not true. Violence, as horrid and unsavory as it may be, can be used to solve problems when necessary. For example, all forms of law are ultimately backed up with the threat of violence by the state. That is a simple fact that many forget. Sooner or later, someone committing illegal acts (even relatively benign ones like parking tickets) will be confronted by an armed agent of the state and will be threatened with violence. By becoming proficient in the use of violence ourselves, even if we never intend to use it, we presumably challenge that monopoly by the state. That fact terrifies a lot of of folks on the anti side. This is not a post about the benefits of breaking that monopoly, however. Instead, I want to discuss some of the other benefits and reasons that I enjoy practicing and encouraging marksmanship.

First, we build confidence in ourselves and our capabilities. This is true for anyone who has taken a self defense class, whether armed or unarmed. This is true for people who compete in athletic events like marathons, Spartan Races, Tough Mudders, and even GORUCK events. This is true for anyone who learns and practices a new skill that demonstrates control of yourself and your surroundings. When you become proficient at marksmanship, you understand that you now have a capability to take care of yourself- be it defensively, putting food on the table, or any other reason. When you succeed at these challenges, you feel more “in control” of your destiny. That is a significant revelation, and a scary one. I’ve taken a handful of folks shooting who were scared at first, but them came to enjoy it “a little too much.” Perhaps these folks recognized some dark trait in themselves that drove them to choose not to become firearms owners, but at least they now understand what shooting is about. Confidence and self reliance is a powerful thing.

Secondly, becoming proficient at marksmanship builds self control. Getting really good at shooting requires a lot of time, practice, focus, and self discipline. Marksmanship also requires a relentless awareness of safety and a conscious effort to ignore impulsive behavior in order to maintain that safety. Shooting in the real world is not like the movies, where the average person picks up a rifle and shoots like a USPSA Pro. People have practiced martial skills for millennia, be it boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, defendu, krav-maga, archery, fencing, and many more. None of these disciplines will be mastered quickly, and all of them require self control. I find it interesting that individuals who are into shooting probably also engage in these other activities as well. Perhaps this it out of an appreciation for martial arts in general. To me, a good day at the range is almost meditation. When I am shooting, I am focusing on breathing, relaxing into positions, visually focusing on a small point, and controlling small muscle movements. All of these things help build self control by teaching the individual to be mindful of their actions, thoughts, and bodies.

Third, shooting is a useful skill. While this is related to confidence, I wanted to break it out as a separate category. Proficiency at marksmanship means that someone has a skill useful to society as a whole. The need for security is a fundamental component of life. Just as we need farmers, tradesmen, and teachers- we need people who can provide security (and food from hunting). It is naive to think that our high standard of living will also go along uninterrupted. The flooding in Louisiana happening right now is a good example. You never know when you might unexpectedly thrust into a situation where you are responsible for the safety of yourself and your loved ones. When that moment happens, you will either be able to meet the moment with your learned skills, curse under your breath about “shoulda woulda coulda” and improvise, or perish.

I know that these things can all be achieved by other means, but that is irrelevant. I understand the desire to be viewed as a “normal” person when engaged in these discussions. We don’t want to come across as violent people obsessing over a hobby that kills thousands per year. At the same time, however, we must also own the fact that we are practicing a military skill, no different than the hundreds of other martial skills that have killed billions throughout history. Ours is simply the modern iteration of personal small arms. This is not a bad thing. These skills have value both personally and societally, and we need to remember that fact.

AAR: GORUCK Light, Vandenberg AFB 13 August 2016

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Back in April, I posted that I signed up for a GORUCK Tough event as a way to test myself and give me something to train for. That challenge was held on August 5th in Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, about three weeks before the event, a back injury I caused about a year and a half ago flared up quite badly. I originally injured myself during back squats at the gym, and thought the issue had gone away. When it hit me this time, I couldn’t even turn my head to look around. It went away in about a week, but I decided it was better to play it safe and moved my registration to later this year. However, Vandenberg Air Force Base happened to be hosting a GORUCK Light event the following weekend under the headline of Vandenberg Team Cohesion Challenge.

The Light events are billed as being about 4-5 hours and 7-10 miles (as opposed to 12 hours and 15-20 miles on the tough). I figured that was a great opportunity to see where my weakness are, how my injury would be affected by the strain, and to do some gear testing along the way.

We arrived slightly before the 0800 start time on a cool and foggy Saturday morning. Cadre Michael “Shredder” in-briefed us and got started promptly. He mentioned that he loved the team cohesion challenges put on at various military bases because it meant that they got to push people a bit harder than they usually would for a “light” challenge. From there, he went right into physical challenges to start “gassing” people and see where our limits were.

I’m not going to relay every individual component of what we did because it’s not terribly relevant and because GORUCK likes keeping a semi-tight lid on what happens during its events. I will simply say that between the long marches, runs, climbing objects, and creative ways of moving nearly half a ton of “stuff” for miles and miles, all under time constraints, the event is a good test of your mental and physical endurance.

As Cadre Shredder repeatedly put it: “Nobody cares how you perform when you’re 100%. It’s how you respond when you’re exhausted and have nothing left that’s going to tell me what kind of person you are…”

In all, the event took six and a half hours, and covered twelve miles.

As far as my performance goes, I gleaned some valuable information. My lower body strength continues to be my strong suit. Carrying and pushing all that weight did not cause cramps or strain on my legs. My ankle, which has traditionally given me trouble, did great (physical therapy works, people!). However, my upper body needs work. In particular, I need to build up shoulder and back strength. I think fears of aggravating my neck/back injury have caused me to shy away from strengthening the area. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always give you the chance to choose when you need to act- so you need to be as capable as you can be. While I succeeded in the event and pushed to the end, there are several components that I don’t think I would have been successful at without the help of my team. Honestly, that goes for everyone there. That is the point of the event: to force people to rely on one another to push past weaknesses and succeed. When I do another GORUCK event, I don’t just want to make it to the end- I want to be the guy who really helps the team and helps others get there.

If you were thinking of doing one of these, I highly suggest committing to it. If you have a regular strength/cardio routine and can comfortably run 3-4 miles at a time, you will be fine. You will be huffing and puffing, but everyone else will be as well.

As far as stuff I brought:

Pack and contents

  • GORUCK 26L GR1 pack
  • Source 3L water bladder
  • Pelican 1040 mini case for wallet, ID, phone, and keys
  • Magpul medium Daka pouch with two Cliff Bars and a pack of Cliff blocks
  • Packable wind breaker
  • Outdoor Research 20L dry bag with fresh shirt and flip flops
  • GORUCK 20lb rucking plate secured in place with cut up yoga block foam and paracord
  • Petzl Tactikka+ headlamp (not used this event, but required to bring per the rules)
  • Various caribiners and S-biners to hold things in place
  • Reflective ankle bands attached to the outer MOLLE of the pack for visibility (also a required per the rules)

Clothing

  • Athletic boxer briefs
  • Under Armour long sleeve golf shirt
  • TAD Recon AC pants
  • Darn Tough light cushion socks
  • Salomon Forces Jungle Ultra boots
  • Baseball cap
  • Mechanix gloves

 

In all, everything held up well. I had been using the zippered laptop compartment of the GR1 for all of my training with a 30 lb weight, but switched to using the sleeve inside the main compartment for this one. The sleeve combined with some foam lining and paracord tie downs to the internal molle webbing helped keep the weight in place. During training, I found that the weight shifting around and bouncing in the ruck was quite annoying; this modification helped immensely for the actual event. I have a pending review of the excellent GR1 to post after a bit more testing.

The Salomon boots are fairly new, maybe about a month old. I purchased them to replace my worn out Belleville 633 Sabers, but the shade of “sage” is too dark to meet Air Force uniform requirements. Instead, they are serving as my go-to boots for everything else. Salomon boots tend to run narrow, so I had to spend a lot of time breaking them in, especially around the toe box. If I had to buy them again, I would probably go a half size up. I think I just squeaked by on this one, as they caused only minor rubbing during the event rather than the blisters I had when I first got them. Some folks got by with athletic shoes and shorts, but I was thankful to have boots and pants once we started moving over uneven terrain and thorny desert brush.

A huge lesson learned here came from load carriage. The GR1 has plenty of cushioning in the straps, and is built to carry loads, but does not have a hip belt or anything else to distribute that load. All of the weight is carried on the shoulders. After six and a half hours carrying about 35 lbs in the pack, my shoulders were in a lot of pain right under the straps. Some of that is a signal that I need to work on my shoulder strength. A lot of it is also the reality that carrying weight for long periods on just your shoulders sucks. Be it from the pressure or the friction of the strap rubbing on the same spot, I wasn’t very happy by the end. The folks out there thinking that they are going to roam around in a TEOTWAKI situation with a loaded down shoulder backpack are gravely mistaken.

For the rest of the day after finishing the event, I kept asking myself, “Why do that again?” I felt the sore shoulders, saw the bruised arms and legs, and had trouble walking from sore feet. But, 48 hours later, I’m sitting here thinking about how I’m going to make myself “better” for the next one. I suppose that’s true of most of these types of endurance/athletic events, be it marathons, Spartan Races, Tough Mudders, or some Crossfit event. You do it the first time to see if you can, and then some folks will decide that they want to be better at it.

Sometimes a man (or woman) just needs to challenge themselves. GORUCK is a great way to do that. The team building aspects are awesome. I have never seen anything like this outside of the military, and even the school I’ve been to didn’t take it as far. In a way it makes sense, since the Cadre of GORUCK come from a world where their job is to help individuals find the best versions of themselves and become teams. The leadership and teamwork lessons that you learn along the way are invaluable.

 

Using the Shooting Sling

It occurred to me that in the two and a half years I’ve been writing here, I’ve never really touched on the use of a shooting sling. Sure, I’ve talked quite a bit about the various slings I’ve tried, but never how the sling actually helps the shooter increase precision.

If you are relatively new to shooting, your primary exposure to rifle slings will come from the tactical and hunting arenas where they are used mainly to carry weapons. Some of the newer designs feature easy to use adjustments that help cinch the sling closer to the body to free up the hands, or to loosen the sling for easy transition to the back, shoot with the opposite shoulder, or use some other carry method. Quick adjustable slings are primarily retention tools that can be used to aid in precision in a pinch by tightening them into the shoulder pocket. This will meet the needs of most shooters just fine. But, if you have the time to take advantage of a true shooting sling, you will see a great improvement in your marksmanship.

Shooting slings (as opposed to tactical slings) are designed to help mitigate the primary enemy of good marksmanship stability: the support elbow. The general principle of all rifle positions is to adopt a good bone-on-bone position and relax into it in such a way that there is no muscle involved in supporting the weapon. Without a sling, there is always a weak link with the supporting arm. When the elbow is rested on a stable surface such as the ground or knee, the arm will be bent and the hand will be forward of the elbow in a type of open-ended triangle. As the shooter relaxes into position, gravity will do its thing and want to make the triangle open up by pushing the hand forward and the rifle down. The only way to counteract this is to use muscle tension, which inherently introduces variables.

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This is the rifle supported without sling. Notice the open area between my front hand and shoulder of the support arm. In order to continue supporting the rifle, the supporting bicep must be flexed, preventing me from relaxing into the position.

Essentially, a shooting sling closes the open triangle by connecting the front of the rifle to the top of the arm (above the bicep/tricep). With this connection made, muscle is no longer required to support the rifle. As a bonus, a tight sling will pull the stock of the rifle deeper into the shoulder and result in a tighter lockup.

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This is the rifle supported with sling. The sling is wrapped around the upper arm and connecting to the front sling swivel, which now closes the open triangle. In this configuration, I do not need to apply any muscle tension whatsoever to support the rifle. 

As a side note, be cautious about going *too tight* with a sling unless you are wearing heavy layers. A very tightly cinched sling will induce pulse jump in the sights.

Here are four of my shooting slings representing different design philosophies. From top to bottom: Riflecraft RS2 (attached to my M1), Turner Biothane 1907 sling, TAB Gear Sling, and a Short Action Precision Positional Sling.

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While I spend the most time with the Short Action Precision, all of these slings do effectively the same thing. Each of them is adjusted to a desired carry length for moving about with the rifle. Once you need to take a shot, you insert your supporting arm through the shooting loop until the loop is above the bicep, cinch it down, wrap the supporting hand behind the forward sling mount, take aim, and fire. Realize that the amount of length needed for the shooting loop is different for each shooting position. Generally, you can use the same shooting length setting for kneeling, sitting, and squatting. Prone will probably require more slack, since your body is no longer upright. Here is a great demonstration by Jacob Bynum of Rifles Only with a modern shooting sling (directly comparable to my SAP). While this is a modern sling, the principles remain the same.


The differences between the pictured slings come down to adjustability. The TAB and Riflecraft slings are meant to be set to a single carry length with a “general purpose” shooting length (most likely sitting or kneeling, since prone shots in the field are rare), and then out the door you go. The 1907 sling is designed to be field adjustable with the metal claw hooking into the holes at the desired length, but it is comparatively slow. It was meant to serve as a carry strap outside of conflict, but the doctrine at the time presumed the soldier would hook into the shooting loop prior to engaging in battle, and then stay “slung up” until the fight was complete. The SAP sling is the most quickly adjustable, with loops that are pulled and released to quickly adjust shooting length for each position (this is why I prefer it over the others for my practice sessions).

Using a shooting sling should be somewhat uncomfortable, but the tighter you get the lockup the better your precision will become. I am generally a 2-3 MOA shooter from the sitting while using a sling, and 5-6 MOA without it.

Another factor to consider when using a sling is how the rifle will be carried. Modern methods, particularly for carbine carry, involve slings that loop around the shooter’s back. Most shooting sling designs will not work this way since there will be too great a difference between the carry length and shooting length of the sling. There are exceptions, though, and they usually involve a length of very tough bungee material.

For shooting slings, the traditional method of carry is over one shoulder with either the rifle on the shooting side shoulder with the muzzle pointing up (American style), or on the support side shoulder with the muzzle pointing down (Rhodesian, or African, style). There is a third one taught at Gunsite called European carry, but I personally don’t see any benefit of it over the other two. Here is a short video explaining each of these carry methods.


Which one you choose is ultimately up to you and your personal preference.

You can use modern adjustable tactical slings as shooting aids as well. There are two methods to doing this. By cinching down the length adjustment and otherwise using correct shooting form, you will help stabilize the rifle by a good amount. It is not quite as good as a true shooting sling, but it will work well enough for most people when speed is of the essence. This really only works well if you have a sling attachment point at the forward end of the handguard, where a traditional sling might be attached. If you mount it close to the receiver, you might have trouble creating the right amount of tension. For this reason, most of my carbines have two QD sling points: one near the receiver and one near the end of the handguard. I like to have options.

Some modern tactical slings with the quick adjusting loops can be pressed to serve as a makeshift shooting sling as well. For instance my FTW sling creates a sizable loop when the adjustment carriage is moved forward. I can take advantage of this loop and put my arm through it in a pinch. It does not cinch down and hold position like a traditional shooting sling would, but it works well enough for a shot or two.

Not all slings do this, though. My BFG Padded VCAS, when adjusted to have a large enough loop, has far too little space between the back of the loop and the front sling point. Despite that, it can still be used with the first method (tightening the carry length and pulling the rifle into the shoulder pocket).

 

Slings are an important part of good marksmanship, but one that is often ignored. Most of the training I see people doing revolves around very close range and very fast engagements. The practical marksman should be thinking a bit further out than that, and should use all tools available.

More Standing Position Tips

The newest Appleseed newsletter was waiting for me in my inbox this morning (which reminds me, two of my work friends are off doing an Appleseed this weekend- good luck, guys!). One of the articles is titled, “Secrets of Offhand Shooting” by Agrivere. I thought it was worth sharing. Much of what the author says is right in line with my experience. A lot of shooting, like many activities, is about the mental game and solid practice.

To add context, if you’ve never shot an appleseed, the targets are all military F-Type Silhouettes scaled to simulate firing from 100 to 400 yards while shooting at the 25 yard line. The shooter works their way through each position at smaller and smaller targets under varying time limits.

  • Standing at the largest “100” yard target
  • Kneeling/Sitting at the “200” yard target
  • Prone with tight time limit at the “300” yard target
  • Prone with lots of time for the “400” yard target

As you can see, successive stages require the shooter to adjust NPOA between each target.

Quarter.jpeg

One of my Appleseed AQT targets from August 2014

Secrets of Offhand Shooting by Agrivere

Shooting offhand (the standing position) sounds pretty simple.  All you’ve got to do is stand there and shoot that HUGE target.  How hard can that be?  It’s those little ones at the bottom that are hard – you can barely even SEE those.  Can’t be hard to hit that huge one at the top, right?

Then you pick up the rifle and start looking at that huge target, and not only will the sights not stay on the target, they may not even stay on the paper.  It feels like the sights spend as much time on your neighbor’s target as they do on yours, right?

If any of that sounds familiar, you’re in good company.  Offhand shooting is hard, and doing it well is even harder.  If you’re one of those folks, and I know a few, who picked up the rifle for the first time and started shooting great groups offhand, then this article may not be for you.  And for the record, I’m jealous, because learning to shoot offhand well has been quite a challenge for me.

Unlike a lot of the champion shooters you read about, I started out just like most of us, just trying to shoot ten shots that scored.  My rifle was moving all over the place, and I considered it a major victory to have a shot that hit the black.  Plenty of shots didn’t hit the target at all.

Today I’m a Master classified NRA Highpower shooter, and in the interest of full disclosure I wouldn’t say I’m a great offhand shooter, but I’ve finally gotten pretty good, and I’ve picked up a few tricks and tips I want to share.  These are things I’ve learned either from other shooters or through trial and error which I think can help you to improve your shooting.

There’s a whole lot to talk about when it comes to making good shots offhand; far more than can be covered well  in one article, so this is  the first of a three-part series.  In Part 1, we’ll talk about some of these “secrets”.   Part 2, will be a more advanced discussion of how to build, or rebuild, your offhand position to maximize stability.  Then in Part 3, we will cover how to create a shot process and how to execute good shots.

First, you need a goal. My goal for this series for you to be able to clean the standing target on the AQT.  Not getting lucky once in a while, but to consistently shoot 8 MOA groups standing, every time.  Why 8 MOA?  Well, you can just fit a 2” circle inside the 5 ring of the AQT target, and a 2” circle at 25 yards is 8 MOA.  What about the rest of the five ring?  Well, any shot that hits outside of our 8 MOA circle could just as easily be a four as a five, so if it happens to catch a five that’s just luck.  And luck isn’t what we’re looking for.

I’m confident that if you’re willing to put in the effort and the time, this goal is achievable for pretty much everyone.  As always, feel free to take what works and discard what doesn’t work for you.  There are many ways to shoot offhand, and what works for me might not work for you. But I hope you’ll keep an open mind and give it a try! That said, don’t give up too easily and use “doesn’t work for me” as an excuse. Some of this stuff is hard, and you will need to be persistent to unlock the secret and understand why it works. This is especially true if you need to unlearn some bad habits first.

Here are the secrets of successful offhand shooting:

1)   Shooting is 90% mental, and the other 10% is in your head.

This might just be the very best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten for shooting, which comes from a former National Champion shooter on the All Guard Gold shooting team.  Of course it applies to all positions, and all kinds of shooting, but it is particularly appropriate for offhand shooting.

The mental side of shooting, especially offhand, is important on many different levels.  First and foremost is the practice needed to turn conscious activities into subconscious process.  Remember that the conscious mind is only capable of doing one thing at a time, and when shooting we need to be able to do many different things simultaneously – align the sights, hold the rifle still, squeeze the trigger, and so on.  The only way to do this successfully is to train the subconscious mind to do them for us, and this is done through practice and repetition.

Think of your subconscious mind as a supercomputer.  While your conscious mind can only focus on one thing at a time, the subconscious mind can do many things simultaneously.  In fact, when I’m shooting well, my conscious mind isn’t really doing much at all other than monitoring what’s happening.  My subconscious programs know how to hold the rifle still, align the sights, and execute the shot.  When it all goes right it’s a weird feeling – all I’m doing is watching the front sight, and when it lines up where it needs to be the rifle just goes off, without any conscious effort at all.

The other key mental element in play here is belief in yourself.  As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”.  This is perhaps the hardest part of shooting in general, and offhand in particular.  You have to believe you can do it, and the confidence you need will only come from practice.  Speaking of practice…

2)   The only way to become really good at offhand shooting is to be ankle deep in brass.

This is a piece of advice I received from a High Master Highpower shooter, though when he gave me this advice he suggested the pile of brass needed to be higher than your ankles (it still starts with “A”).  Whatever the depth of the brass you prefer, it’s absolutely true that it is going to take time and repetition to get good at offhand shooting. Fortunately, a lot of that brass can be “virtual”, using dry fire practice.

To give you an idea what I’m talking about, I frequently use a Scatt electronic trainer, and so far this year I’ve shot (offhand only) 1,920 shots on the Scatt, 310 shots in competition, and hundreds more in live fire practice.  Last year was about the same.  If you want to be good at shooting offhand, you’re going to need to commit the time to do it.

Dry fire works for most of your practice, but as we all know you have to do it properly.  Only perfect practice makes perfect.  You have to be honest with yourself, and not cheat.  That’s one of the nice things about an electronic trainer, as it will show you things in your shooting that you can’t easily see without it, and help you correct errors you might not even know you’re making.

In addition to programming our subconscious, what is it about offhand practice that magically makes you a better shooter?  This is one of the secrets that people won’t tell you, because most of them don’t know, and it’s very simple.  You’re training your body and your brain to use different muscles, in different ways, than you’ve ever had to before.

Try to raise just one eyebrow without moving the other.  Or move just your pinkie toe without moving the others.  For most of us it’s almost impossible. Why is this?  There are muscles there, and nerves to send the signals.  Why can’t we do it?  Because we simply haven’t trained our brains to send those specific signals to those specific muscles.  You can, if you want.  Practice builds those neural pathways to let our muscles do things they can’t currently do.

And that’s another big secret of offhand shooting that nobody ever tells you.  It’s the flip side of the biggest lie we tell when we teach offhand.  Anyone ever tell you to relax?  Well, the last time I checked, if I REALLY relax when I’m standing up, I’m going to fall down.  What experienced shooters really mean when they say “Relax” is, “Relax all of the muscles you don’t absolutely need to stand up and hold the rifle still.”  The thing is, when you’re starting out, in all likelihood you can’t do that, no matter how much you want to.  You need just the right amount of tension in just the right muscles to execute a good shot.  Too much tension and the rifle moves all over the place.  Too little and your position falls apart.  A big part of practice is learning exactly how that feels when it’s right, and when it’s wrong.  One of the biggest points of practice is to build the neural pathways to let you add just a tiny bit of tension to a shoulder, or a hip, or whatever, in just the right way to keep your position balanced and stable.  It only comes from repetition.  Speaking of a stable position…

3)   Your hold has to be 10-Ring to shoot 10s.

This tip comes from Carl Bernosky, one of the greatest shooters in the country, and current co-holder of the national record for Highpower offhand shooting with a 200-15x.  That’s 20 shots in the 3½ MOA ten ring, and most of them landing in the 1½ MOA X-ring.  That’s some good shooting .

Since we’re not shooting a Highpower target, we’ll adjust his advice a little and say “If you want to shoot small groups, you need to have a small hold.”  Sounds simple enough when you just say it like that, but it’s surprising how many shooters overlook this most basic of fundamentals.

We will be talking a LOT more in Part 2 about how to build a position that is capable of holding the rifle quite still, but it won’t surprise anyone to hear that it will be based on the exact same principles as every other shooting position.  Holding the rifle still requires using bone support wherever possible – remember bones don’t get tired the way muscles do – and relaxing our muscles as much as we possibly can.

This is especially hard in the standing position, as we simply MUST use some muscles in order to keep standing.  The less we use them, and the more carefully we use them, though, the better off we’ll be.  Here’s a framework to start thinking about.  Think of your muscles like a room full of toddlers.  They simply can’t sit still for more than a few seconds.  If they aren’t doing anything they have to do something – anything – and if you give them something to do, the next time you turn around they are bored with that and want to do something else.

That’s the biggest reason your sights move around like they do.  Your muscles really are trying to help, but just like a room full of toddlers they aren’t all on the same page.  They twitch and contract and tense up and the rifle moves all over the place.  With practice you can teach them how to hold still and let bone support take over, and that’s the goal.

So until we get to part 2, try to think about ways to have more bone support and less muscle support in your standing position, and your rifle will move much less.  Here’s a hint.  Start from the ground up, and think about each joint from your feet to your head, and whether you’re using bone support or muscle support.  Your feet, your ankles, knees, hips, back, shoulders, neck, everything. There are proven ways to build a position that will maximize stability and bone support, and minimize muscle tension.  We’ll talk a lot more about those in Part 2.

The other secret to holding the rifle still is the same as it is in prone, sitting, or kneeling, and that’s a rock solid NPOA.  Your success at aligning your natural point of aim with the center of the target will to a large degree define your success in all shooting sports, however, in offhand shooting, finding your NPOA can be extraordinarily challenging, leading us to…

4)   The NPOA Conundrum

We’ve all heard it many times.  During prep time you should build your position and establish your Natural Point of Aim so your NPOA is aligned with the center of the target.  Check your NPOA before each shot.  Adjust as necessary.

All sounds good, right?  How is that working out for you?  Probably about the same for me, which is to say not at all.  Here’s the secret nobody is telling you.  Until you learn to hold the rifle still, you don’t really have a Natural Point of Aim.  I mean sure, you can kinda put the target in the middle of the gigantic wobble area, but it’s not really doing you any good, not really.  Lets break this down a bit.

What is NPOA?  The definition in the Appleseed manual is:

The place where your body, in its RELAXED state, would place the shot. It demands bone support, not muscle support. Muscles are the enemy of precision rifle shooting!

We already talked about the fact that you essentially cannot relax when you’re standing without falling to the ground (especially when you’re new to shooting offhand), and yet we’re told we need to find and check our NPOA, which requires us to be relaxed.  So we must relax in order to have a solid NPOA, but we can’t relax because we’re standing here holding a heavy rifle.

So here’s the secret.  It’s all about your position. Building a position which is capable of holding the rifle still is a big part of Part 2, but until you learn how to hold the rifle fairly still while standing on your feet, honestly NPOA is a pretty worthless concept.  It’s probably worthwhile to try to put the target generally in the center of your wobble area, but if your sights are swinging across a space twice as big as the target, don’t sweat it.

We will talk more about how to build a solid position much more still down the road, but until then here’s what to work on.  Learn to hold the rifle still first.  Dry fire on a blank wall.  Don’t worry about where it’s pointed, just feel your position and where it has tension, then learn to let that tension go. Hold drills are great for teaching you where you still have tension, so you can reduce or eliminate it.  It will take some time.  You’ll be tired and probably sore.  Make adjustments to your position and see how the sight movement changes.  In time you’ll be holding a very small area.  At that point we can introduce a target.  Why do all this dry firing without a target?  Because, simply speaking…

5)   The Target is a Distraction

For most of us, the target is really messing us up.  It’s a huge distraction.  If you’ve followed what we’ve talked about here, you’ll see it.  As soon as you put a target out, your hold will increase in size dramatically.  Doesn’t make sense, does it?  Well, here’s what happens.

Your brain wants very badly to put the sights in the center of the target.  So much so that it will try to help you do it.  You’ll muscle the rifle onto the target and not even realize you’re doing it.  And all of a sudden, before you know it, your hold size has doubled- simply because you’re not relaxed.  Your body wants to help, but it’s working against you.  That’s the point of all that blank wall dry firing, to learn what it feels like to hold the rifle still without a target to distract you.

It requires tremendous focus to establish your NPOA in standing, and it will shift over the course of a string, so you’ve got to recheck it frequently.  If you’re using a scope, it’s even easier to fall into what I call The NPOA Trap.  In the NPOA Trap, simply because you can see the target SO well it’s very easy to muscle the rifle over to it without even realizing you’re doing it.  It can quickly turn into a vicious circle, where muscle tension makes your hold bigger, so you try harder to find your NPOA, which makes your hold even bigger, and so on.  To break the cycle you simply must relax, and that’s harder to do than it sounds.

So take the time in dry fire to learn how the sights should look when you’re relaxed, by dry firing at a blank wall without a target.  Then, when you introduce a target, if they don’t look the same, you’ve fallen into the NPOA trap.  Adjust your NPOA and relax until the sights move the same way.  Only then have you really found your NPOA, and only then will you shoot as well as your capable of.

Another small trick you can use is to adjust your sights to let you hold the rifle on a “valueless” part of the target.  If you can hold your sights on something that has no “value” in your mind, like maybe the corner of the paper, your mind will be far less tempted to try to muscle the rifle around, and your hold will shrink.

I hope you found that useful. We’ll be going into a lot more depth on position and shot execution in the next parts, but until then safe shooting, and as always if you have questions or comments please don’t hesitate to ask!

I will keep an eye out for parts 2 and 3.

The Standing (Offhand) Position

I’ve avoiding writing much about the standing position for a few reasons. Chiefly among them was that I am still working on this one myself, and it is my weakest position by a wide margin. Another reason I’ve avoided it is that there really isn’t a single correct way to perform it. There are several variations on the standing, and which one you choose is highly dependent on the circumstances of the shot. Is this a shot taken in CMP-style competition, where stability is more important, or is it taken in a defensive or USPSA style manner in which speed is the priority?

Army TC 3-22.9 has this to say,

This position should be used for closer targets or when time is not available to assume a steadier position such as short range employment. The upper body should be leaned slightly forward to aid in recoil management.

This is the associated diagram of the standing:

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This is a pretty standard position for modern rifle combat. The forward lean helps with the recoil and follow-up shots. There is an alternative supporting hand position known as the “c-clamp” that became fashionable some years ago. With that variation, the supporting hand is driven as far out on the handguard as possible and grabs the rifle from the side. The index finger of the support hand is sometimes laid parallel to the bore so that the support hand more or less “points” at the target. This variation is almost always paired with a more squared up shoulder stance and shortened stock.

The touted benefit of the “c-clamp” is that it helps the shooter “drive” the rifle more quickly from target to target at relatively close ranges. It’s not particularly new, honestly. To me, it appears to be an evolution from a stance the Rhodesians adopted for close range shooting with the FAL during the Bush War.

The weakness of this “dynamic” stance is that the rifle is nearly entirely held up with muscle strength. That may work well for situations where speed is more important than precision, but you will begin to fatigue quickly when using this position for long periods of time. In practice, it shouldn’t really be much of a factor for the practical user since you should always be seeking a more stable position than unsupported standing. Unless you are in a defensive situation, where you need to return fire immediately, you will probably have time to find a supported position or take a kneeling/sitting position.

The exception, of course, is when it comes to situations where precision is very important and a more stable position is either impossible or not allowed (as with competition). This stance is characterized by a much more bladed position, the supporting elbow anchored on the support side hip, and supporting the rifle under the handguard (or magazine) wherever it provides the best center of gravity for the shooter. When in this stance, there will sometimes be a distinct rearward lean and a “chicken winging” of the firing side arm. This style permits better support of the rifle by mixing bone into the equation. It is still not perfect, but better than the prior alternative for precision shooting.

Some shooters, who are almost invariably committed to “dynamic” tactical shooting using the c-clamp, will decry anyone using this latter  position as an untrained newbie in need of correction. While there are certainly new shooters who will adopt rearward leans due to lack of upper body strength or instruction, it is a very different lean than the ones illustrated above and is clearly much more unstable. If you come across a “tactical” shooter badmouthing the traditional offhand stance, challenge them to a marksmanship match with someone proficient in such a stance…at 200 yards.

Standing is something that requires work and practice. I have a long torso, which means I have trouble resting my elbow on my hip (it’s closer to my lower abdominals). There are other tricks you can do if you are wearing load bearing gear, such as resting the elbow on top of a magazine pouch or some similar anchored object.

Realize that none of the above techniques are the final word. Consider each of them to be tools in the toolbox, with each one having an appropriate time and place for use. Proficiency in each of them, and knowing what works best for your individual body mechanics, will make you the best shooter you can be for any situation that appears.

 

 

New Steiner Intelligent Combat Sight

The Firearm Blog recently broke a story about Steiner’s entry into the intelligent optics market. The Intelligent combat Sight (ICS) appears to be a pretty solid entry into Category V optics that I wrote about last year. Here is a quick video about the scope.

 

Interestingly, the optic housing looks suspiciously like something made by ELCAN, even though the companies are unrelated. It even has similar external adjustment mechanisms and backup sight configurations. While ELCAN is owned by Raytheon, Steiner is owned by Beretta. Of note, Beretta also owns Burris Optics, which is known for their Eliminator series that seems to have similar functionality to Steiner’s ICS. With a weight 27 ounces, it’s no lightweight- and the ranging mechanism on the left side certainly adds some bulk.

At $3500+, it is certainly outside of my price range, but still a fraction of what the TrackingPoint M600 system costs at nearly $10K (including the AR-15 pattern rifle). To me, this signals that the steady march of technology continues to bring prices down and improve ruggedness across the market.

Steiner has recently made splashes with the release of its M332 and M536 combat sights, which seem to offer great glass and ruggedness for half the price of an ACOG. If the trend continues, I really do wish them (and others) luck with bringing more options to bear.