General

Continuing Education

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My interests are wide and varied. Small arms and marksmanship have long been my number one passion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t take the time to learn about other things. Any given day, I’m reading articles about exercise science, nutrition, photography, history, amateur radio, bushcraft, camping, and others. YouTube, as politically charged as it has gotten, is still a valuable resource for learning.

Max Velocity Tactical has been putting up a series of mini discussions on his YouTube channel that are particularly interesting. While all the videos are worth watching, a recent one on his view of the correct training progression stood out to me. It’s about investing in ourselves to become better.

The Value of Training

I will never argue that learning to shoot better from a professional instructor is a bad thing. Doing so reinforces the fundamentals of marksmanship, safety, and has a variety of benefits. Eventually, though, if you keep taking varieties of Carbine I and II from different schools, you haven’t broadened your horizon.

Even though I’ve only attended one small unit tactics training course, it was enough to show me that the individual weapon skills is really a small part of a larger whole. Gun boards are filled with people bickering over minute details of their weapons. While the difference between that trigger and this one, or that red dot and this one, can be interesting in a philosophical context- it ultimately doesn’t matter all that much. Note, quality still applies here. If the difference between item A and item B is that item A is clearly higher quality and will stand up to abuse while item B is a cheap Chinese knock off, that is a different argument.

I can see value in these discussions for competition shooters who measure win or lose by fractions of a second against their peers, but must of us aren’t competing at that level. If we turn our attention to the defensive use of our weapons, then things like mindset, sound decision making, and fitness levels become much more important.

Attending professional training, especially outside your comfort zone, is how you improve. It shows you your weaknesses, so you can fix them. It gives you ideas of what else you could be doing. It teaches you that winning is a combination of factors, and we mostly focus on the smallest of those.

I’m not saying that individual weapon training should not be performed. On the contrary, it should be part of an overall package of learning. I’m not saying that everyone should go out and pretend they are Rangers, either. But, I do firmly believe that anyone who takes the defensive use of small arms seriously should spend some time rounding out their skill set with actual tactics, techniques, and procedures.

More Knowledge

Did you know there is a curve of performance and how it relates to your heart rate? There is a window, between 115 and 145 beats per minute where fine motor skills and problem solving are at their best. Coincidentally, this same range is roughly what we could consider the Aerobic metabolic range, where the body is most adept at mobilizing fat stores to provide steady energy. Exceeding that curve into the anaerobic state induces all kinds of effects, such as reduced fine and complex motor dexterity, reduced marksmanship, reduced cognitive processing, reduced peripheral vision, reduced depth perception, and others. Knowing this, you start to get a picture of how important fitness becomes. Granted, Grossman is referring to psychologically induced stress more than physical fitness, but I find the correlation notable. If your heart rate shoots past the 140s on a casual walk, what are you going to do under actual stress? Running drills up and down the hills at MVT’s West Virginia facility will tech you this.

Have you seen, or done, the quick left-to-right-to-left “scan” after completing a drill? Did you actually scan, peering into the distance, corners, and others areas? Actual training will show you the difference.

Wrap Up

This post was really musing about knowledge. I focused on tactical knowledge in particular, but I want to get across that it is important to always be learning. If we aren’t constantly challenging ourselves to grow, then we stagnate. Do the hard thing and push yourself.

 

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General

On Mindset, Willpower, and Doing the Hard Thing

“We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life. It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. In this life we get nothing save by effort. Freedom from effort in the present merely means that there has been stored up effort in the past. A man can be freed from the necessity of work only by the fact that he or his fathers before him have worked to good purpose. If the freedom thus purchased is used aright, and the man still does actual work, though of a different kind, whether as a writer or a General, whether in the field of politics or in the field of exploration and adventure, he shows he deserves his good fortune. But if he treats this period of freedom from the need of actual labor as a period not of preparation, but of mere enjoyment, he shows that he is simply a cumberer of the earth’s surface, and he surely unfits himself to hold his own with his fellows if the need to do so should again arise. A mere life of ease is not in the end a very satisfactory life, and, above all, it is a life which ultimately unfits those who follow it for serious work in the world.

As it is with the individual, so it is with the nation. It is a base untruth to say that happy is the nation that has no history. Thrice happy is the nation that has a glorious history. Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. “

— From “The Strenuous Life,” Theodore Roosevelt, April 1899

The Will to Fight

I have been quiet lately.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Rather than beat around the bush, I will just get on with it. I was forced to say a final goodbye to my two year old son last month. His tragic death was due to an incurable neuromuscular disorder he was born with, and it eventually robbed him of his life. He will be utterly missed, and I look forward to the day I get to join him again in the next world. In the months leading up to his passing, and the weeks since, I’ve given a lot of thought about life.

Nothing is ever a guarantee.

We have all grown soft in some ways, comforted by the relative safety of our borders and ease of plentiful resources. We often forget what it is to truly struggle. Many of us have our demons, and they can surely be hell- but they are not a literal fight for survival. It is not until we see the things we always assumed would be there ripped away from us that we begin to understand just how fragile the world really is. It is in that moment that we realize just how difficult things could really become, and how woefully unequipped to handle it we really are.

I have had on and off discussions with people in my circles about preparedness. Usually this is in the context of natural disasters, not black helicopters or Red Dawn or anything like that such things would surely put me in the category of “crazy veteran”). I’ve come to find that many people, at least in the well-off and highly educated stretch of land surrounding Washington DC, have no plan. Their primary course of action is hope. At best, they hope that someone else is going to come help them, protect them, or take care of them. At worst, they “plan” to give in and let whatever happens…happen. To paraphrase what one of my former commanders used to say during staff meetings, “Hope is not a valid course of action. Figure it out.”

These people simply have no fight.

Something that I’ve learned in the last two and a half years is that every day is earned. Life, especially a comfortable one, is not a given. It is the end result of hard work, of toil, patience, and very often the undertaking of mundane everyday tasks that must be done to build it. If not done by those that live it, then by someone else who did it on their behalf. If we are to survive, it will not be those who live in perpetual comfort who get us there…it will be the fighters who demonstrate the grit to keep going when all else has failed.

How do we develop this will if we don’t already have it? The same way my son fought for every day he had: by working for it.

Do the Hard Thing

We are all lazy.

Some of us are worse than others in this regard, of course, but everyone is lazy about something. Why walk or ride a bicycle when we can drive? Why eat healthy when crappy food is cheaper and easier to get? Why lift weights when I work a desk job? Why practice marksmanship when I can buy better gear? Why get professional training when I can just talk about it on the internet?

To some degree, every one of us has dealt with a question like this. I’ve fought with every one of these, and it takes effort to overcome them. Sometimes I slip into the easy path, choosing to get an extra hour of sleep rather than get up at 5:00 AM for a work out. Sometimes I cheat and get unhealthy food rather than warm up the healthier prepared option I brought with me. That is life, it happens.

But in the greater context, the ability to move forward, to survive, is built one decision at a time. Our long term success is built upon a series of good decisions made over years. Until we commit to making those good decisions, to take the harder path more often than we do not, then we are destined to fail.

Failure cannot be treated as an end state, however. As the opening quote made clear, victory is obtained by those with the willingness to dare. Sometimes, daring greatly will lead to failing greatly. Such failures come with valuable lessons to those willing to listen and dare greatly again.

Moving Forward

For reasons that should be obvious, shooting and marksmanship have been much lower on my priority list than when I started this journey four years ago. Quietly, in the background, I’ve been reading, studying, and experimenting.

The world is shifting under our feet, and we should all feel a little unsteady about how things have been going. We can choose to do the easy thing, to complain about it on the internet, or to endlessly argue with people we don’t agree with. We could choose to simply buy another gadget, and pat ourselves on the back that we are that much more prepared for hard times.

Or, we could do the hard thing and truly prepare ourselves. We could be working on our raw skillsets, making us less reliant on gadgets for success. We could be focusing our or physical fitness, increasing our chances of surviving difficult times. We could be seeking to learn from those who have been there before us, and gain that real experience. Reading it in a book is simply not the same.

We need to earn our days.

 

Reviews

First Impression: The CZ P-07

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Background

Last year, around January, I was talking about entering the fourth year on this blog. While last year didn’t really go according to plan, for a lot of reasons unrelated to shooting, one of the things I mentioned was my interesting in purchasing a CZ pistol. At the time, I was looking primarily at the P-01 and the P-09.

I ended up not purchasing a pistol at all. In fact, once I left California, the only shooting related stuff I managed to do was finish the Minuteman Rifle, and attend a four day training course at Max Velocity Tactical.

In August of last year, I realized it was time to get my carry permit. The most obvious choice for what to carry was what I already had on hand. The Beretta wasn’t practical to conceal, and my 1911 has had feeding issues for years, that left me with my FNS-9. However, I quickly realized it wasn’t exactly an ideal carry pistol. The grip, with it’s 17 rounds, was ever slightly too long, and the pyramid-shaped grip texture was just a little too rough. I set out to consider my next pistol.

Up until very recently, I always assumed that the pistol I would carry on my load bearing gear for a class would be different than the one I would want to carry inside the waistband while out and about.I’m always willing to reconsider my positions, though. While at the MVT training, my “battle buddy” who I worked with over the course of four days shared a little bit of philosophy with me.

Aaron (not his real name) was a retired prior enlisted USMC Force Recon Lt Col. Since his retirement, he has worked in the private contracting world, in and out of a lot of rough places and bad situations. He takes classes like that one routinely as part of his job, and he was the only one out there for those four days that outshot me in the drills. I suppose having your employer pay for your ammunition and class fees has its perks. As things tend to do, a conversation broke out about gear, and why people made the choices that they did. Aaron was carrying a Sig P320 Compact on his belt throughout the course. I forgot how it came up, but he ended up saying something along the lines of, “Pistols are sidearms that you really don’t want to have to fall back on. If the difference in capability of a full sized and a compact isn’t that much, then it just makes more sense to carry the compact all the time.”

I suddenly felt a little sheepish about the Beretta 92A1 hanging off my belt.

In any case, that was a long way to say that I’ve come to believe in the idea of the “one” pistol. It’s the pistol that you carry concealed, carry openly on your gear, compete with, and practice with.

The Decision

Had I asked the internet about what to buy for my “one pistol,” the answer would have been a Glock 19. To be fair, it’s not a terrible answer. The Glock is reliable, has a track record, and is used for exactly this purpose all around the world. However, I chose not to go that route for two reasons. First, I’ve never really warmed up to Glocks. The grip angle, trigger feel, and other elements were things that I just never enjoyed. Sure, I could get past it if I needed to, but I just didn’t want to. Second, I wanted a hammer fired gun in DA/SA. It’s just a personal preference.

That second requirement ruled out a lot of common options like the P-320, VP9, PPQ, M&P, and others (the APX certainly has my attention, but there is no compact version yet). The remaining options came down to the HK P30, HK P2000, FN FNX-9, Beretta PX4, and three choices from CZ: the P-07, P-01, and 75D PCR. I ruled out the FNX because it is pretty much identical to what I was already carrying, save for being DA/SA, and I would have the same issues with its grip size and texture. The PX4 didn’t come in until later as a dark horse. It has a great reputation as a carry weapon, but I’m not confident in its rotating barrel configuration. I’ve heard stories (granted…they are internet stories) of it having jamming issues, and it wouldn’t work if I ever get a 9mm suppressor down the line. The HKs are…well…HK. Fantastic reputations for reliability, but not so great for tunability. The CZs all have great reputations for tunability, accuracy, and reliability (though not as much as HK). I couldn’t find the P-01 or PCR in stock anywhere.

I would have been willing to wait on them, but my local range happened to have a P-07 available for rent. I checked it out for an hour, and just found it immensely shootable. The double action was light and smooth, and the single action was crisp and predictable. Once I happened to come across a great deal on one, I was sold.

The CZ P-07

The P-07 is CZ’s second generation of its compact polymer DA/SA model. The first was the P-07 Duty, which was released in 2009. It was meant to be CZ’s entry into the polymer-framed pistol market, and included a few new mechanisms that the prior CZ 75 models lacked, like the ability for the end user to swap between a decocker or safety for cocked and locked carry. The first generation was well received, but wasn’t without its growing pains. CZ took the lessons from the P-07 duty and built them into it’s full-sized brother, the P-09. Those changes included swappable backstraps on the grip, revised frame construction and material, and a few mechanical changes. The P-09 was an immediate hit, and CZ went back to update the compact version to a second generation.

Specs
Chambering: 9mm Luger
Magazine Capacity: 15
Trigger Mech: Omega DA/SA
Sights: Fixed Three-Dot
Barrel: Cold Hammer Forged, 3.75 in
Weight: 27.7 oz
Overall Length: 7.2 in
Height: 5.3 in
Width: 1.46

First Impressions

My P-07 came well packaged in a black hard sided case. It included three backstraps. The small size was already installed. The case also included two 15 round magazines. Interestingly, these appear to be the same magazines used in the CZ P-10c. I looked into it, and it is true that P-10c magazines work just fine in the P-07, but mags designed for the P-07 do not work in the P-10c. I would guess that CZ will phase out the dedicated P-07 magazine in favor of the more universal option.

There is, of course, the included manual and warranty cards. There is also a printout showing the target impacts used when zeroing the sights.

I excitedly pulled the pistol out of the case, cleared it, and set of testing the trigger. It did not feel at all like the one I rented two weeks  before. The double action was heavier, with lots of grit. The single action, while light enough, did not feel as distinct as the one I rented. It felt a little more like a rolling break than a distinct wall like I’ve come to expect from my Beretta.

This wasn’t really a surprise. I did my homework ahead of time, and already knew that it takes a few hundred rounds to “wear in” the stamped steel components of the CZ trigger. Parts and smithing services are available that dramatically improve the feel of the trigger, and they are less than half the cost of sending my Beretta off to Wilson Combat.

Putting those concerns aside, I mounted my MantisX to the pic rail and started squeezing off shots in dry fire mode. The MantisX, if you don’t know, use accelerometers to measure movement of the pistol before, during, and after the trigger squeeze and then provides feedback. It’s a useful training tool when I can’t be at a range to see an actual score on paper. To my surprise, I was averaging 94 points on each trigger pull- including double action. That was out of the box. To compare, that is about the same average I generate in single action on my Beretta that I’ve been shooting for years. My double action scores hover around 90.

In short, despite the my initial impressions on the trigger, my actual performance with it seems to be pretty darn good.

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Trace data from MantisX. The blue line represents the hold. Yellow is the trigger pull. Red is the shot break and recoil. This shot was during dry fire, so there isn’t recoil to speak of.

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One of of the signature features of a CZ is that the slide rides inside of the frame. The legendary accuracy and recoil characteristics of CZs are at least partly attributed to arrangement. Because of this, the P-07’s slide is not very tall at all and doesn’t leave much real estate to grab. To help, CZ has machined very nice serrations both at both the front and rear of the slide. While playing with it, I thought it would be more difficult to manipulate. But, in use, I haven’t had any problems with racking or quickly clearing induced malfunctions.

The frame of the pistol is well stippled. The front feels more like traditional checkering, while the sides feel closer to skateboard grip tape (though not quite as rough…just closer to it). There are also stippled portions above the trigger guard on each side of the frame. I assume these are for resting fingers and finding reference points.

I’ve definitely read some complaints about the grips side panels getting irritating after a long period of carry. However, I don’t know those folks’ backgrounds, or what they expect. From my brief time carrying the P-07, I find it much more comfortable than the aggressive pyramid texture on the FNS-9.

Speaking of carry, I will be toting the P-07 in a Vedder Holsters LightTuck. I have been carrying my FNS in one of their RapidTuck holsters, and find it very well made and comfortable. It seems a lot of good holster makers have popped up in the last few years, Vedder just happens to be my go-to these days.

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The P-07 is not fully ambidextrous. The decocker is, but that’s it. The slide stop/release is only on the left side, and the magazine release is reversible. My FNS is fully ambidextrous, which was a selling point for me at the time, but the more I shot it I realized I didn’t value those features. I usually release the slide with a slingshot maneuver, and I sometimes found that my grip on the firing hand would be dangerously close to pressing the magazine release from the palm side (a common complaint on the compact model, actually).

Before taking it out for a test drive, I swapped out the small grip panel for the medium. I quickly found that this was not the quick and easy job. On some guns with modular back panels, I just have to release the panel by inserting a punch or some other narrow device into a hole that moves a catch out of the way. With the P-07, I have to remove the pin that is holding the mainspring in place (seen at the lower rear corner of the grip in the above photo).

I know from installing a ‘D’ spring in my Beretta that moving those pins are a pain in the behind. It took a bit of cursing, and a couple breaks to go find the spring and cap that had flown across the room, but I got the panel installed. I have zero concerns that the backstrap will go anywhere on this one, though I’m probably a whole less inclined to experiment.

The First 100 Rounds

The first chance I had, I took the P-07 out to the range. It was the same range, and even the same lane, that I had rented one before. I loaded up two 15 round mags and had at it. The first mag was done all single action, the second all double action. The first few shots were right through the 10 ring at 7 yards. To my great surprise, the double action shots were even more accurate on average than my single action shots. While the final target was nothing to write home about, I will say that I have not had this good a start with any other pistol I’ve ever shot. That one little guy up at the top right was from losing focus during a double action shot.

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I then took an Appleseed 100 meter target and stuck it out at 25 yards to see what I could do. It wasn’t impressive by any means, but all shots did land on the target. I then brought it back to 10 yards and finished off the first box of ammo, chewing out the middle of the target in the process.

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I kept the MantisX on during this period to get feedback on my trigger pulls. In short, they were pretty good. I was giving a bit too much finger at first, which was pushing the pistol to the left (you can see it on the left trace below). Once I got that figured out, things started going very well.

I finished off the session by attempting Dot Torture. I’ve never done this particular test before, but I know it is deceptively simple. Each dot requires a different method of fire. The goal is to keep all shots (typically 4-5) within each circle at a given range. Once you can do that, move the target further back. The starting point is 3 yards. I was pretty happy with myself until I hit the weak hand shooting portion. I’m going to need some practice there. I also blew two of the double action shots (one on dot 3, which went low and is touching the top of dot 6, and one on dot 9 which ended up inside of dot 6).

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After getting home from the first hundred shots, I noticed that the trigger has already begun smoothing out. The double action already feels lighter than my D-sprung Beretta, which is about 8-9 lbs. The single action break is still more of a roll than a wall, but it is predictable and I found I didn’t have trouble staging it.

Conclusions

So far, I am very happy with this pistol. I went over 2000 rounds without malfunction on the FNS before I considered it “qualified” to be carried. Whether or not I apply the same standard here remains to be seen. I am aware that the trigger return spring is a known weak point, and folks expect to replace them ever 10,000 trigger pulls. Cajun Gun Works (CGW) makes their own higher quality version that has been reported to be much better, and has gone past 70,000 cycles in some places.

I look forward to seeing what I can do here, but the CZ looks like a winner. I have no intention of picking up another pistol at least until one of two conditions: I learn to master this one to the point of cleaning a dot drill at 10 yards, or I find that the pistol is unreliable.

General

Range Report

It’s been a busy three months since my last post. We bought a home, moved (again), and I recently received a promotion at my job. With all of that going on, shooting and writing just didn’t top the priority list. Sorry about that.

However, I finally did get out to a range again. There is a nice indoor facility only a few miles from our new home, so I might be able to make much more regular trips out there. It is an indoor facility that only goes up to 50 yards, but it is better than nothing. This marks my first time putting any rounds downrange since the MVT class I did back in October.

I had limited time, so I hit the range with a purpose.

First, I finally got the chance to function check the rifle I finished last summer. It shot beautifully as far as function and handling go. I did not get to finish sighting it in or perform any accuracy testing mostly due to my own haste to get to the range. I brought the wrong eye pro, for starters. The tinted lenses combined with the rather dim indoor lighting made seeing the sights quite challenging. On top of that, I did not have the appropriate tool to adjust the Ashley 1/2 MOA front sight. I also had some trouble getting a stable shooting position due to the narrow lane dividers, but it was mostly my own “rust” from not having shot for groups in quite a long time. I did note that the RSO on duty gave me “respect” for slinging up and assuming a proper sitting position on the line, which is probably fairly rare in these parts.

My second purpose was to test out a CZ P-07 that the range had for rent. I’ve been considering purchasing one for about six months. I’ve never had access to a range that I could rent one until now, so it was nice to actually get to shoot it before I commit to purchasing one. I was very satisfied with the one they handed me, and I expect to pick up one of my own soon for both carry and bedside duty.

In all, the 40 minutes I spent on the lane were a welcome return. I was happy to see that was still capable of shooting moderately well (particularly with pistol). I want to make it a more regular trip, seeing as the location is less than 10 minutes from my house.

General

Pistol Standards

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It should come as no surprise that my decision to regularly carry has moved pistol shooting higher in my priorities. I wrote a bit about the subject around two years ago, but my focus has remained steadfastly on rifle shooting for the most part. The reason, frankly, is that I find shooting rifles to be easier, and therefore more fun.

Pistols are more difficult to master and are far more unforgiving of weak fundamentals. Despite that, if bad things were to unexpectedly happen, 90% of the time we will find ourselves reaching for a pistol out of convenience. Be it a carry weapon, or the bedside gun, we owe it to ourselves to be proficient with it.

My trusty Beretta 92A1 has been somewhat retired, and the focus of my practice has been with my FNS-9. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the Beretta. It has functioned flawlessly for seven years, but its large size means that it is not the pistol I carry. Instead, I carry My FNS-9, which has provided flawless function over five or so years and several thousand rounds. The major downside for it when I first bought it was the lack of holster availability. Today, I’m finding that the problem has been remedied by the market.

Standards

It’s no secret that pistol shooting is more challenging. Different schools and agencies have different ideas of standards. The Rogers Shooting School essentially requires the ability to hit an eight inch circle at 20 yards on demand in less than a second. Redback One and Ken Hackthorn use modified IDPA targets and standards and involve drawing from concealment. The FBI’s new standards do the same, but with modified Q targets. There is, of course, NRA Bullseye standards as well.

I suppose, the standard you choose to pursue depends heavily on your needs. For me, those needs are squarely in the defensive. I am particularly interested in Bill Rogers’ methods, though I doubt I could afford (either in dollars or time) to attend his school any time soon. The 8″ circle used in his standards is essentially the same diameter of the “-0″ zone of the IDPA targets used in other schools, and I believe provides a good starting point.

Most pistol training occurs at less than 10 yards. I’m certainly guilty of this for most of my shooting. While I’ve demonstrated the ability to make hits on silhouettes at 100 yards, or pepper poppers at 50, I didn’t exactly apply strict timing standards to those moments. As far as I can tell, there is no downside to practicing quick hits at longer ranges with a pistol. All of the skills needed to make that hit on an 8” plate at 25 yards will translate well to making hits at closer ranges. The opposite is not necessarily true.

There is also the matter of hands. I have nearly always shot with two hands in a modified isosceles stance (arms straight, feet staggered). This is obviously the most stable and contributes to good accuracy. But the reality is that defensive shooting is more than likely going to involve one hand rather than two. The second hand could be carrying something, guiding someone (like my family), or be injured. It make sense to practice with one handed shooting more than I historically have.

So, all of that said, these are my focus areas:

  • Hitting an 8″ circle at 25 yards on demand in less than 1.5 seconds from the ready
  • Hit an 8″ circle at 25 yards on demand in less than 2 seconds from the draw and shooting with both hands
  • Hit an 8″ circle at 25 yards on demands in less than three seconds from concealment using only the strong or weak hand

For training purposes, I could always just grab a batch of 8″ paper plates. But it is difficult to get data off of that. A better route will be NRA B-8 targets, which are 25 yard pistol targets with a 5.5″ black. If I can train to keep them there, then 8″ would be much easier.

All of this presumes I can get adequate range time to practice. Sadly, that has been much more difficult to do since the move. However, indoor pistol ranges are much easier to find that nice outdoor rifle ranges.

General

The First Time Carrying

Not long ago, I mentioned an event that solidified my decision to obtain my concealed handgun permit from Virginia. Shortly after that, I filed the paperwork and started the waiting game. About 20 days later, my permit arrived in the mail.

On one hand, the feeling was “Oh, cool…” and I somewhat shrugged it off. Perhaps it was the reality hitting me that I really didn’t have an excuse anymore. I’ve also been seriously looking into a dedicated carry weapon, but haven’t committed. I realized, however, that it was like most things in life: the journey starts with a basic step.

I’ve been eyeballing a CZ P-01, P-07, or Sig P320 Compact. So far, though, I haven’t bought anything. The entire time I’ve been having this debate, my FNS-9 has been sitting in my safe loaded with Hornady Critical Duty. I also happened to have a belt-mounted kydex holster for it (made by the now defunct Trojan Tactical).

“Well,” I thought, “I might as well give it a try.”

The family and I went for one of our walks out among the local trails. The FNS rode outside the waistband (OWB) on my belt, but inside my jacket.

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A few things immediately became apparent to me after this walk. First, the standard FNS-9’s grip can print pretty badly off the side of a jacket. It’s just too long to be carried concealed this way. I found myself resting my elbow up against my side a bit more in order to hide the print. I now realize that this is the purpose of canting the holster. Second, I found the weight of the pistol to be somewhat comforting.

The TroTac holster does not have the ability to cant, so I needed to find a suitable replacement. I ended up selecting a Vedder Holsters Rapid Tuck. I received it earlier this week, and promptly took it out on the same walk. It was very comfortable. I even ran a few errands around town with it quite comfortably. The ability to cant the holster makes a huge difference in concealment.

I will continue experimenting with positions. For now, my preference seems to be strong side kidney. I will report back once I have a final spot. I also plan to talk a bit more about the holster itself. The FNS-9 may end up being a fine carry gun, though I would still like something a little shorter and narrower.

In all, I’m finding that the decision to carry is not some magical talisman that makes things better. I didn’t really expect otherwise, though. I wasn’t particularly “fearful” before, but I do find comfort in knowing that I have more options.

General, Range Reports, Reviews

AAR: MVT Rifle Skills/Combat Team Tactics, 19-22 October 2017

Introduction

There is a list of rules for gunfighting attributed to Drill Sergeant Joe B. Frick. It is usually passed around the shooting community in jest, but some of the highlights include these nuggets:

  • Bring a gun. Preferably, bring at least two guns. Bring all of your friends who have guns
  • Only hits count. The only thing worse than a miss is a slow miss.
  • If your shooting stance is good, you’re probably not moving fast enough or using cover correctly.
  • Move away from your attacker and go to cover. Distance is your friend. (Bulletproof cover and diagonal or lateral movement are preferred.)
  • If you can choose what to bring to a gunfight, bring a semi or full-automatic long gun and a friend with a long gun.
  • If you are not shooting, you should be communicating, reloading, and running.

Most tactical training courses taken by civilian gun owners focus on quickly and accurately running a carbine. The curriculum usually includes the mechanics and care of the AR-15; fundamentals of marksmanship; malfunction clearance; and maybe some elements of shooting from behind cover. These are important skills to learn, of course, and I’ve always enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to practice them.

However, these courses only cover some select individual skills. As the rules above indicate, there is more to learn. As I would discover during this four-day course, these other skills are vital- and there isn’t any other way to develop them other than getting out and doing it.

Why Small Team Tactics?

Some years ago, I read an article that talked about the mindset of typical tactical enthusiasts (as well as preppers). In short, these individuals could learn to become very proficient in individual shooting skills, and amass large stores of supplies, but they were still individuals. Eventually, we all need sleep. In the worst case scenarios, individuals will be overrun by mobs attacking when least expected.

At some point, we have to accept that there is safety in numbers, and we will need a team.

I grew up in South Florida. I’ve lived through several powerful hurricanes, including Andrew, Katrina, Wilma, and others. While going without power for two weeks following a storm, someone kicked in my neighbor’s door and stabbed them 17 times. It took hours for the police to respond. We’ve all seen what happened when Katrina hit New Orleans, or what happened recently in Houston. Puerto Rico is still in rough shape from the recent storm season. I’ve lived in places with blizzards, fires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. My prior profession also gave me unique insight into the “what ifs” of the world. After that, you come to accept that there will be situations where the veil of civility drops and you are on your own. At least for a while.

If one of my underlying goals is to protect my family and community, or at least my “tribe”, then it stands that I should start learning how to fight alongside them.

This is what brought me to Max Velocity Tactical.

I’ve seen Max’s articles on and off for a long time. It was his old posts that first got me rethinking my battle belt configuration. Max shares a similar background to most of the well-known tactical trainers. However, he gained notoriety through the prepper market rather than the tactical. In a way, that makes a lot of people cautious about his courses and writings. There is a negative undercurrent of “militia training” surrounding civilians learning small unit tactics that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. There is a definite stereotype associated with that idea, and most folks in the tactical market avoid it.

That said, in talking with him during breaks, Max has been distancing himself and his school from that image. He wants to attract a more professionally-minded tactical audience. This group invests in quality equipment, training, and fitness. They aren’t trying to be a bunch of Walter Mittys, just people developing skills. The message I noticed all during class was that this had nothing to do wth politics. In fact, I can’t recall any political comments on the part of the instructors whatsoever. Any discussion of motivation focused on teaching people a more complete tactical skillset. More still, a lot of discussion centered on how to improve the courses and training.

The courses he offers, as well as the supporting events, are part of an ecosystem known as TacGun. This philosophy focuses on developing well-rounded citizens who with not only the ability to shoot, but the ability to function as a team. That also includes demonstrating leadership and work towards the high level of physical fitness.

Those who prove aptitude in these courses sometimes get the opportunity to act as OPFOR when US Army ODA groups come train at the MVT facility. From talking to those who have had this chance, the lessons learned and camaraderie are striking. I, for one, think that would be an awesome opportunity for anyone interested in tactics.

The Training Facility

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A rubber training rifle and selection of “lost magazines” left behind on the ranges and never recovered
Max Velocity Tactical (MVT) is one of the few schools in the country that will teach small unit light infantry tactics to civilians.

Max, the owner and lead instructor, is a life-long infantry soldier who “grew up” in the British Parachute regiment. He also spent time with the British Special Forces Support group. He has six deployments as both an enlisted soldier and officer. Of note, he spent a tour selecting and training recruits for the Parachute Regiment. After leaving the military, he spent five years as a government contractor for both the US and UK in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The main training facility is about 40 miles west of Winchester, VA, occupying a 100 acre wooded section of the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. It includes a variety of ranges for training a wide breadth of skills from CQB to Combat Patrolling. Dug in pits dot the terrain. These pits include PT-61 pop-up target systems, to which Max fixes 3-D “Ivan” targets.

The terrain in much of the facility is…unforgiving. Once off of the flat ranges, the hills and trails are punishing to those who have a poor level of fitness or have elected to carry too much stuff in their kit. The terrain on the ranges themselves is uneven, with hills, roots, soft soil, and other debris often making correct positions difficult to obtain. On more than a few drills, I found myself shooting into cover in front of me rather than the target due to height over bore issues with the optic. These are the things you don’t get on a groomed 25 yard range.

The Training Course

Rifle Skills/Combat Team Tactics is a combination of two different courses spread over four days. The first two days consists of Combat Rifle Skills. The first day of which is a review of the AR-15 platform, marksmanship fundamentals, zeroing, and basic rifle handling. The second day teaches malfunction drills, reinforces the lessons of day one, and begins to teach movement and cover techniques on a square range. CRS concludes with buddy pair movement and an assault through. Historically, the first day was optional. Students could elect to start on day two, if they thought their skills were up to snuff. However, that will be changing next year. Students will be required to attend both days of CRS prior to Team Tactics. This could all be done in one four-day chunk, or on separate weekends within six months of one another.

I attended the RS day to help knock off some rust from my rifle handling. Four years of being stationed in California meant that I simply didn’t practice a lot of the carbine skills I picked up while living in Montana. The eccentricities of California firearms laws also meant I developed some awkward weapon handling habits.

The second two days, Combat Team Tactics (CTT), leaves the square range and takes place on Tactical Ranges 1 and 2. An outdoor classroom stands at the base of these ranges. CTT builds upon the foundations developed during CRS with a focus on communication, movement, cover, and safety. The end goal is to learn basic fire and movement drills as well as variations of breaking contact. It is these two days that showed me the things I didn’t know. It is one thing to read about these drills in a field manual, Ranger Handbook, or Max’s own manual, “Contact.” It’s another to understand the challenges associated with them.

The CTT course follows a crawl-walk-run method. Students are first provided a lecture and discussion of the drill about to be performed. Sometimes, when appropriate, there will be a demonstration. Then, students perform a rehearsal without weapons. Lastly, they perform the drill with live fire. Tactical Ranges 1 and 2 are essentially “Jungle Walks” where a team advances down a lane until they are “contacted” by pop up targets and the drill begins.

I want to point out that safety was always a paramount focus of the instructors. From the opening drills on a square range to the jungle walk lanes, the student to instructor ratio during live fire never exceeded 2:1. The instructors made sure that safety angles, muzzle discipline, and positioning were enforced at all times. I constantly heard the instructors taking note on whether or not students clicked their weapon safeties on while moving (they all did). On more than one occasion, an instructor would joke with me after a drill about, “What you didn’t see was me standing behind you with a large rock if you had raised your weapon at that moment.” Luckily, I always kept safety angles in mind.

Daily Recap

I wrote a recap of each training day as a way to keep track of the activities performed and lessons learned each day. In hindsight, I found the course material well organized, and effectively built upon itself with each iteration.

Day 1 (CRS)

Day 1 of the whole training event was the optional Rifle Skills day. The class opened with a safety briefing and clarification of expectations provided by Max. Through discussion, Max learned a bit about each student’s background and prior experience. It became clear that the four students (including myself) who arrived for the first RS day were all experienced rifle shooters. Two were multi-class returning alumni of Max’s other training courses, another was a retired USMC infantry officer who continues to do government security contracting work overseas.

The first day’s curriculum was adjusted in light of the students’ experience levels. We skipped over discussion of the AR-15’s history and maintenance, and moved to loading/unloading drills. The focus was on knowing the commands that would be issued on the range.

Once satisfied with load, reload, and unload, we moved on to zeroing and marksmanship. We didn’t spend much time talking about (or demonstrating) marksmanship fundamentals or positions. I would have liked a bit more here, but that’s because I’m a marksmanship nerd. We had a short discussion on preferred zero distances, point blank zero, and practical effects. Shooting positions were briefly covered. The gist of this portion of the course was to explain that there are many ways to skin a cat. It is more important to do what works for you (within reason) than obsess over minutiae of technique.

The rest of the day broke into various weapon handling drills, position transitions, and basic individual movement techniques. A large amount of emphasis was placed on communicating what was happening with you and your weapon. This would become very important later.

Day 2 (CRS)

For the second day of training, four more students arrived. One was an LEO, another was a fire fighter, and another was a father-son duo. Of the eight in attendance, we broke into buddy pairs that persisted through the rest of the course.

The second instructor, Scott, joined us on day 2. Scott is a retired First Sergeant who came up through Army LRSC and deployed everywhere from Gulf War 1 to Afghanistan.

Scott opened with discussing malfunctions, their causes, and how to fix them (as well as inducing them for training value). Corrective actions focused mainly on variations of tap-rack-bang, but also double feeds and bolt overrides. The importance of actually looking into the ejection port to identify the source of any stoppage was emphasized.

My habits from California’s bullet button and my ambidextrous charging handle caused me grief, as I had grown accustomed to using my firing hand to do a lot of things.

The rest of the day continued to build on the basics of individual and buddy pair movement. Other topics included throughout the day were tactical reloads and scanning. The instructors are not fans of the cursory quick scan left and right that has grown popular. Instead, they emphasized a good steady scan of the surrounding terrain (and ejection port of your own rifle). This would be reinforced in the following days on the tactical ranges.

The second day finished with basic fire and movement, with a buddy pair advancing in short successive bounds covering one another.

Day 3 (CTT)

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A view from the outdoor classroom. Pictured is the whiteboard used to discuss drills and examples of the “Ivan” targets used during the course (on the left). Behind the board is the start of Tac Range 2.
The third day started in the outdoor classroom at the base of Tac Ranges 1 and 2. It was chilly, in the high 30’s, and there was a fair bit of shivering during the morning lectures until we actually started moving. The first half of the day built upon the closing drills from Day 2.

Rather than a single buddy pair advancing up a square range behind plywood sheets for cover, the pair would advance up Tac Range 1. The range consisted of uneven wooded terrain on a steady uphill climb. The teams would fire and maneuver while suppressing a pair of pop-up targets. Again, this was demonstrated, rehearsed, and then done with live fire.

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Looking up the trail on Tac Range 1, unseen are the dug in target pits
Every time the drill grew in complexity, the course grew longer. We would “fight through” the first position, only to be contacted again by the next one further up the trail. This is where the importance of scanning began to grow. In the wooded terrain, it was not always obvious that the next “bad guy” had popped up unless you were carefully looking around. Getting “sucked into the target” was a recipe for failure.

Through it all, the instructors stuck right behind each pair. They ensured safety angles were never violated and muzzles were kept in safe directions.

Side note: these drills are the reason for the new fitness requirements (timed ruck and timed lunges) to attend training. Fighting up these hills is no joke, and people’s focus begins to drop off when they are tired. Even more so, if someone is unable to stand up from a kneeling or prone without waving their rifle in every direction, they are a safety hazard. 

In all, these drills were exhausting but extremely fun. I tracked my heart rate through them, and it routinely hit 160-170- even just walking back up the hill to fetch spent magazines. My partner, the perpetually cigar-puffing retired Marine, spoke fondly of the drills. He also admitted that the terrain was humbling.

The back half of the day focused on breaking contact.

Demo, rehearse, perform.

Good stuff.

Day 4

The hardest thing you will ever do in combat is extract a casualty under fire. The second hardest will be to locate the enemy. – MVT Instructors

The final day took place on Tac Range 2, which follows along a curved wooded creek bed. The drills remained the same, but the terrain grew more complicated. This is where the quote above became a factor. Finding targets to shoot at became downright difficult at a times. It was easy to focus on the ones you already knew about, and if the team wasn’t communicating as they spotted more, then we had problems. I often found myself shooting at the same few target because the cover I was behind blocked my left field of view. Had I moved my head a few inches to the right, I would have seen them and engaged.

I came to appreciate my Elcan and ACOG. They are fantastic at this sort of thing. The magnified optics helped peer into the background and hunt for targets. The illuminated reticles helped draw the eye to the aiming point. Since multiple shooters were involved, speed was less important than hits and communication. This is an important takeaway for me.

I don’t want to give too much away, but these were fantastic drills.

Parting Thoughts

This was an excellent training event. I was much more satisfied with the second two days (CTT), but I understand the need to bring everyone up to a basic foundation in the first two days. If anything, I would like to have had more practice on unconventional shooting positions. Staircase barriers were already present on the square range, so it wouldn’t take much effort to cut holes in them (like the VTAC barricades) and teach those lessons. Not super important, but it would be useful to have if there is extra time with a quick-learning class.

The next logical course for me to do is Combat Patrol. That course takes the team tactics drills and expands them into planning and conducting patrols. Beyond that, I am very interested in trying my hand at the Force on Force Team Tactics event. In FoF, students split into competing squads and drill against one another using UTM bolts and rounds. However, my funding does have limits.

I would highly recommend this course for anyone looking to grow beyond just being able to shoot quickly on a square range. Learning to communicate and coordinate with others during a firefight is a skill that isn’t going to be taught by reading a manual or watching a DVD. Until more trainers get past whatever it is that stops them from teaching it to open enrollment courses, Max has a pretty solid lock on this material.

Personal Lessons Learned

  • It’s not about me. Once you start bringing your friends to the fight, it has a whole lot less to do with your individual speed/skill and a lot more to do with coordinating and communicating with those around you. Marksmanship absolutely matters, as only hits count, but a lot of the fancy whiz-bang stuff people attach to their weapons becomes a whole lot less important when you are keeping your rate of fire controlled and avoiding shooting from the standing as much as possible.
  • Communicate, coordinate, communicate- but do it quickly. I had a discussion with Scott at the end of the whole course, and the basic feedback was that my weapon handling and maneuver mechanics were pretty good, but I was simply slow to communicate. This slowed down momentum. I think my careful communication style stems from my prior military background, which required high a lot of verbal coordination and positive “echos” of commands. Still, they would prefer that a team do it correctly a bit slower than attempt to fly through and become a mess. Remembering to communicate and coordinate constantly while also trying to put shots on target is very difficult, and it simply can’t be learned from reading.
  • Lack of practice is killer when combined with even a little stress. Even though I set goals for myself for some weapon handling skills, I hadn’t actually been practicing prior to class. On the very first reload on Day 1, I ended up pulling out two pistol mags before finally grabbing the rifle mag I needed. Oops.
  • The fitter you are, the better you will be able to keep your head in the game. If you’re already sucking wind after a short walk, and then make contact, you are far less effective and may even become a safety hazard.
  • Do the drills to practice the skills, but don’t let them make you stupid. Two moments stick out to me regarding this. The first happened on day three. During the first two days of square range training, the react to contact drill included firing and then taking a kneeling position to simulate getting into cover. On the jungle walk, I went stupid and actually took a knee in the open on the trail rather than darting to the side behind actual cover. The second moment involved correcting a stoppage (reload) and then taking a shot at the last known target’s location (even though it was no longer visible). I did that because the drills we had practiced for the prior two days involving stoppages ended when the rifle was fired and shown to be “back in.”
  • The more you practice correct marksmanship fundamentals, including positions, the better able you are able to improvise when conditions are less than ideal. After we left the square range, I don’t think I ever adopted a fully correct kneeling position again. The terrain just didn’t allow for it. However, I have practiced enough with understanding NPOA and bone-on-bone to make it work anyway. The target was still hit.
  • You don’t need to “hug cover.” I was corrected several times for trying to bound too far ahead of my partner and the other buddy pair. In my mind, I was simply trying to get up to the next reasonable piece of cover, be it a wide enough tree or bundle of fallen logs. The reality was that I didn’t have to be next to it for the cover to do its job. As long as it was between me and them, it was working. By bounding too far ahead, I put safety angles at risk and potentially forced my partner to have to move again. Short aggressive bounds are better.

Notes on Gear

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My “Gear Bomb” of kit prior to packing it up at the end of the course. The bright tape helped prevent losing any magazines in the thick piles of fallen foliage
  • Rifle #1 went down 2/3 of the way through day one with short stroking issues. I have been unable to determine what the root cause was, so I am chalking it up to poor lubrication for now. The TR24 1-4x optic on it worked great for that application, though. However, the rear ocular focus didn’t want to stay put. Until fully diagnosed, this rifle is being moved to backup status.
  • Rifle #2, the LW BCM with Elcan Specter OS4x functioned flawlessly. The light weight was awesome when humping it up and down the trails, and the Elcan was perfect for target ID and engagement. The illumination setting (I used max brightness almost the entire time) was perfect for the shaded wooded terrain. It stood out just enough to draw the eye, but not so much that it was distracting. This rifle has been promoted to primary status.
  • Rifle #3, the 20″ Musket with UBR 2.0 and TA-110, worked great for the afternoon that I used it. The LED ACOG was superb, as expected. However, the extra weight of the entire set up was definitely noticed. The stubby foregrip was very useful for carrying the rifle in the patrol position without inducing wrist strain. All things being equal, I wouldn’t mind having to hump the musket around longer term- but I definitely preferred the lighter weight of rifle #2.
  • The medium battle belt was perfect. Two changes I made right before class was to swap out the HSGI Bleeder pouch for the Chinook MED TMK and I mounted a dump pouch at the center rear. Thankfully, I did not need the med kit, and the dump pouch just wasn’t useful except for gathering mags after drills. I won’t be keeping it there. The medium battle belt made a great layering item for controlling profile. I will have to write more about this.
  • When it comes to hats, short soft brims work better than long stiff ones. I wore a patrol cap for the first couple days, and switched to a short brim boonie hat for the second two. The patrol cap, an Outdoor Research Radar Pocket Cap in Multicam was certainly convenient. I could fold it up and stuff it in a pocket, and it didn’t interfere with my electronic ear pro at all. The boonie, a Tyr Tactical Huron short brim boonie, interfered far less with sight picture through magnified optics. Once I figured out how to make it work with my ear pro, I much preferred the boonie hat.
  • The MVT chest rig I picked up last year did its job well. It was low profile enough to not get in the way of any positions, or become a snag hazard, yet it worked well for reloading. Not being split front, it was a little bit of a chore to get on and off, but was otherwise nearly unnoticeable.
  • I wore my Vertx smock for all four days. While it sometimes grew pretty warm when in the sun, its pocket space was indispensable. On the first two days with the square range, I carried extra magazines inside the pockets (where mag sleeves were sewn in), and replenished my belt from them as needed. At no point did it interfere with movement, and I could easily see it being a trusted piece of kit.
  • I felt like quality eye pro made a big difference in the class as far as vision went. I used a pair of Revision Sawflys through the entire thing, swapping from tinted to clear lenses for the second two days.
  • I didn’t think it would matter, but I happened to wear a pair of TAD Force-10 pants for the whole course, which proved great. Not only were they durable and allowed freedom of movement, but I never realized they had magazine sleeves sewn into the cargo pockets. In all, between the pants and the smock, I could discretely carry eight 30-round magazines in purpose-made pockets.
  • I tested two slings during the course, the FTW multipurpose and my long-standing BFG Padded VCAS. Both worked well, but I ultimately liked using the VCAS more.

Conclusion

This was an awesome way to spend four days and enough money to make my wife a little mad at me. Aside from the training aspect itself, I appreciated the opportunity to vet some of the gear I’ve acquired over the years. To be honest, it all worked pretty well. I suppose that is another mark in the column for buy something good up front and it won’t fail you later.

Thanks for reading!