Recently, while wasting time around town, I wandered into my local gun shop to browse the selection. Since I live in California, the handgun selection was pretty slim, but there is usually a nice variety of rifles on the wall and accessories in the cases. Even though I don’t usually buy weapons from this shop, I still try to support it by buying smaller items whenever feasible. On this particular trip, I picked up a BCM Short Vertical Grip
(SVG) Mod 3. This particular one has a slight 5 degree tilt to it, and has been stripped down to weigh only a scant 1.3 ounces, much lighter than older Tango Down models I had in the past. I stuck it onto the musket to tinker around with and solidify my opinion about them.
For many years, the vertical foregrip (VFG) was the most overrepresented superfluous accessory on AR-15s. You saw one on nearly every rifle in any given message board picture thread. I had one on my first AR and even put one on my JAE-stocked M1A for a bit. They were just flat out tacticool.
That popularity has subsided a bit, and I think most shooters have been removing them from their rifles unless they have a legitimate need.
What would that need be, you ask?
The vertical foregrip for the AR-15 platform really came around during the SOPMOD program. The addition of lights, laser designators, and other attachments to the short 7″ rail of the M4A1 meant there was little room to proper support hand placement. The program directors, taking note from the historical usage of the vertical grip on old submachine guns and the Steyr AUG, went ahead and put a VFG in the SOPMOD kit so that the shooter could still firmly control the front of the weapon.
The enthusiast circles went wild. Everyone needed to have one for themselves.
The fact that most people putting VFGs on their guns had no other accessories mounted to the handguard was irrelevant. We still continued to put them on our guns even when longer handguards with more rail space became trendy.
We went so far as to invent new and interesting ways to hold the rifle in order to better justify why we should keep those VFGs. Some of those methods are still applicable, and I will cover them here. Overall, though, the shooting methods that employ a VFG are not necessarily conducive to good traditional marksmanship. The VFG also poses a significant snag hazard on the rest of your gear. I ditched mine for these reasons, and it seems that many professional users have been getting away from them as well. The latest generation of hardware has white light, IR illuminator, visible laser, and an IR laser all incorporated into the same compact unit–there is no more need for several separate devices, and so the rail estate has been freed up.
The question becomes, if stopped using VFGs years ago, when why did I suddenly add one to the musket?
Aside from the tacticool nature of the things, there are a few benefits that they can offer the savvy user. These come down primarily to ergonomics.
If you choose to use the thumb break shooting method, a slightly less aggressive “c-clamp” grip, then the VFG offers a decent hand stop to pull back against. This method is actually pretty effective for quickly moving between targets and close range and aggressively controlling recoil. In the photo to the right, you can see how the thumb wraps over the top and the little fingers pull back against the VFG (ideally, the shooters index finger would be running along the side “pointing” at the target). This position is the impetus for the angled grips that are out there such as the Magpul AFG, BCM KAG, and Fortis SHIFT. For full effectiveness, this method requires the VFG (or similar) to be placed further out on the rifle, closer to the muzzle.
If you don’t shoot with this method (which I don’t), then what else is a VFG useful for? You will notice on my rifle, I placed the BCM Mod 3 fairly close to the receiver rather than out towards the end where most people would go for. I actually moved it slightly closer than I used to run a Magpul Handstop (a device that is more contributory to traditional marksmanship). The reason is that I don’t want to touch the VFG at all while shooting– I want my hand pressed up against the forward sling swivel. So why have it, then?
At the moment, there are three answers that best suit my needs:
- Ease of carry
- Barrier support
- Elevation in offhand
Ease of Carry
When I did my research for the post about combat and approach loads, I came across the British selection test (used for their special forces). In this test, the applicant must traverse long distances over harsh terrain while carrying significant weight. Part of that weight is a service rifle. The rifle must be carried without a sling, and must be carried with two hands. As I read more about that aspect of the test, I looked into methods of carrying rifles for long distance. The result was that a short VFG puts much less stress on the wrist when carrying a rifle in the low ready position for long periods (as on patrol or standing guard). By resting the VFG in the support hand, the shooter does not have to crank their wrist around and use “squeeze” muscles to hold the weapon up. Additionally, the VFG allows the shooter to quickly bring the weapon up for a snap shot better than carrying it by the magazine well, which is an inherently unstable position (especially with a longer barrel like that of the musket).
The benefits of this configuration are somewhat negated by the use of a tactical sling, which will help keep the weapon supported regardless of hand position. I know of several instructors that choose to forgo slings all together, however, so you have to let the configuration suit your needs.
While researching for this post, I was struck by how many people focus on whatever their preferred high-speed military special tactics unit is doing, and tries to mirror their own equipment and methods on that unit. Unfortunately, I think this gives many people a skewed perspective. The emphasis on go-fast CQB tactics and “stand up” gunfighting (as opposed to seeking cover and returning fire) has done a disservice to the philosophy of a civilian rifleman.
We should all be focusing on our 90% intended usage. If you, as a civilian, plan on riding around in helicopters and vehicles and only have to walk over short distances before engaging in a “stand up” fight, then modeling those tactics, techniques, and procedures makes sense. If, however, you find yourself humping your equipment long distance on foot over rough terrain, then making things easier to carry sounds reasonable to me.
When resting the rifle on a barrier, the VFG lets the shooter slide the weapon forward onto the barrier and “squeeze” the weapon between the shoulder and barrier, otherwise known as a “barrier stop.” This offers a lot of stabilization for rapid shots.
Barrier stops, essentially the reverse of a hand stop, have been on the market for a while. I usually only saw them in competition, and they were typically mounted up front where I would usually put a bipod (for my purposes, not necessarily competition). The position I put my VFG in may be too far to the rear to be effectively used as a barrier stop, but it’s worth a shot. I will report back after my next shooting session at extended ranges with a concrete bench to support on.
Elevation in Offhand
When I shoot offhand with a more traditional stance, I either have to compromise my head position by scrunching down, or I sacrifice some control of the weapon by balancing the handguard on the tip of my fingers. The VFG can help alleviate this issue by acting as a palm rest.
The VFG is placed in the palm of my support hand, which allows me to raise the elevation of the rifle without compromising my head position or sacrificing too much control. In theory, this seems like a reasonable use, but only time will tell.
I put a VFG back on my rifle to see how it shakes out for the next couple of months. As I progress from practicing raw marksmanship towards practical riflery in a variety of conditions (to include land navigation), I want to keep my mind open to other possibilities and methods. I’m past the point of doing something, or not doing something, because internet fanboys tell me that Method X is the best way, and “nobody does Method Y anymore.” Sometimes you just have to experiment to see what works for you.